A Halt in Travel Means a Struggle and Pivot for Luggagemakers

The pandemic slowed down business but things may be looking up

Full Frame Shot Of Colorful Suitcases
Mr.nutnuchit Phutsawagung / EyeEm / Getty Images

Is there an industry that hasn't been touch by COVID-19? We've all heard about impacts on aviation and hotels (and even sports tourism), but one crucial subset of the travel industry saw business immediately grind to a halt: The luggage industry. Last week, suitcase giant Samsonite released its sales numbers for the first half of 2020, and the stats are dismal, to say the least. Net sales decreased by 53 percent compared to 2019. That breaks down to a $953 million loss. 

The 110-year old luggage company is known for its sturdy suitcases, which can easily cost $500, backpacks and travel accessories. And its subsidiaries include the upscale Tumi, eBags, and High Sierra. Net sales in April, May, and June decreased as much as 81 percent, compared to the same times last year.

Though the numbers are creeping upwards, Samsonite’s Chief Executive Officer, Kyle Gendreau acknowledges it’s still an uphill battle for the rest of the year. And since fewer people are traveling (estimated to cost the travel industry a whopping $320 billion), Samsonite certainly isn’t the only luggage company feeling the COVID strain.

"With travel restrictions still largely in place and the stop-and-go progress of markets re-opening worldwide, the group's performance is expected to remain under significant pressure for the remainder of 2020," Gendreau said.

Earlier this year, the trendy luggage brand, Away, shared a Medium post highlighting the immediate impact the pandemic had on its business.

“Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen sales of our products decrease by more than 90 percent. It is not only hard to do business during a global pandemic—for us, it is nearly impossible to continue our mission of transforming travel when travel has come to a halt,” wrote the company's founders Jen Rubio and Steph Korey.

That major decline in sales meant furloughing staff, laying off 10 percent of the team, and the founders freezing their salaries. Another immediate decision was to temporarily close Away’s retail stores, with locations in New York, Los Angeles, Houston, and more.

However, the company's stores have since reopened for business, with COVID guidelines in place, including sanitization stations, a cap on store occupancy, and some locations even offering curbside pickup.

While the pandemic has impacted all luggage brands, classic and trendy, some are finding ways to launch new products that appeal to travelers’ current needs.

Samsara, which sells sleek aluminum carry-on suitcases, now makes an Essentials Kit. The 5-piece set includes a reusable mask, hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes, and three pairs of disposable gloves.

"Samsara feels a deep sense of responsibility as a travel brand that is focused on safety to meet the unique consumer demands during this critical time,” said Atara Dzikowski, the company's co-founder and CEO. "Our company is working diligently to conceptualize technological solutions and smart materials that will deliver a safe, secure and effortless travel experience.”

The Essentials by Samsara kit, which was launched in June, retails for $19.50 or a family bundle of 10 kits is available for $195. The kit is also now included for free when purchasing the aluminum carry-on suitcase.