What’s the outlook for travel in 2022? One way to predict the future is by looking at our luggage. And no one is better at that than Blake Lipham, president and chief executive officer of Travelpro. His company consistently produces some of the most innovative baggage, starting with the invention of the two-wheeled Rollaboard three decades ago. I recently talked to Lipham about the future of travel.
Luggage sales have always been a barometer for future travel. What does your barometer tell you?
My barometer is saying almost everyone is ready to travel again, but not everyone is certain they should just yet.
More specifically, leisure travel has shown strength during the summer, and I believe it will be a strong holiday season for travel as well. That said, international and business travel is still lagging, and I believe may remain so heading into 2022.
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How about the omicron variant? Is that moving the needle at all?
The new variant has been a reminder that the pandemic is not fully behind us, and I know that we, along with many travelers, are keeping a close eye on the updates and any changes in travel restrictions. That said, at this time luggage demand has remained strong as we head into the final stretch of the holiday shopping season.
How have people’s luggage needs changed during the pandemic?
I believe most people’s needs have changed as the types of trips have expanded – it’s not just traditional carry-ons dominating the market anymore. For example, if you’re working remotely from a friend’s house for a month, you may want a large checked bag.
Family road trip to see relatives or visit a national park? Maybe a large duffel. Quick getaway to recharge? Perhaps a nice weekender bag. Fortunately for Travelpro, we have numerous options for all of these trips.
What does that say about travel to you?
I think this is an excellent reminder about how important travel is as a component of our everyday lives – connecting, learning, relaxing – we all need these things and when travel was taken away, we all felt it. It was a loss. Getting back to confident travel will help us all put an incredibly challenging 18-months behind us.
Many people are preparing for their holiday trips. Are there any luggage strategies they should be considering that they might not have in previous holiday travel seasons?
First of all, I hope everyone’s holiday travel is as similar to prior year’s as it can be — or perhaps even better — but we must acknowledge that things have changed. I would suggest building a bit more time into travel schedules and consider checking bags when possible versus trying to get everything loaded into a carry-on and a personal item. The rules have changed a bit in airports – including the federal mask mandate – so everyone needs a more time.
Ah, longer waits at the airport and train station. And I’ve noticed that more luggage is coming with a USB port.
Yes. Charge your battery packs and use your built-in USB ports on Travelpro luggage to help pass the time.
Also, consider packing a foldable tote to give you some flexibility on your return trip. I would also like to emphasize how important it is for everyone to remain patient and courteous. Travelpro has a wonderful relationship with professional flight crews and we really want to communicate our support for all the great work they do, and ask all travelers to show them the respect they deserve – the trend of post-pandemic unruly behavior needs to stop.
We’ve been seeing a lot more expandable hardsides on the market. Your latest release, the Platinum Elite Hardside, comes in an expandable version. Are people running out of room?
Actually, there are numerous pros and cons to traveling with a hardside piece of luggage versus a softside bag, and each individual needs to decide which format is best for them.
One of the challenges with traditional hardsides is that it can be difficult to add those handful of souvenirs into the suitcase on the way back from a trip – particularly when the bag was packed-to-the max at the beginning.
Adding an expansion zipper helps overcome this challenge, and Travelpro has been designing expandable cases for decades, so it was an easy choice for us to include that option in our new Platinum Elite Hardside collection.
Travelpro recently started sharing information about its testing process. What has the data shown?
The data shows what it has always shown: that designing a stylish, functional, durable piece of luggage – a genuine trusted companion – is a genuine challenge.
We have been putting our bags through the paces since our founder, Bob Plath, invented the original Rollaboard. It is such an integral part of our DNA that we assumed our customers knew about all of our testing; but that turned out not to be true – so we have become more transparent about our processes, and everyone has enjoyed getting to see a bit behind-the-curtain.
We also continue to refine and update our own testing based on what we learn in the marketplace – particularly from our professional flight crew customers who place the heaviest demand on everyday performance – and from our airline relationships that afford us the opportunity to assess first-hand how luggage is being treated once you check it in at the counter.
OK, level with me: Do packing cubes really help create more space?
Packing cubes with a compression feature – an option in our Travelpro Essentials collection – can help you create more space. However, we find that most packing cube devotees are really into it for the organization and packing ease. It can also help you not forget an item – like undershirts or socks – if you have a devoted cube for them.
Some of the newest luggage we’ve seen is quite expensive, with price points above $500. What’s going on here? Do travelers really need a $500 bag?
Selection and variety are a wonderful part of being in the branded consumer products business, so I don’t want to judge anyone else’s approach – but at Travelpro, we offer a wide selection of luggage options for every type of traveler and budget, and each collection offers its flagship carry-on piece for under $500.
A few years ago, we saw a lot of new entrants in the smart luggage category. Many of them are gone now. What happened? Does luggage need to be smart, or was that just a marketing gimmick?
Quite simply, traveler safety happened. Smart luggage required a power source and when airlines stopped allowing non-removable power sources from carry-on luggage it dramatically limited the value of luggage being smart.
Ultimately, luggage should allow you to travel with your possessions comfortably and confidently – and a bit of style doesn’t hurt either.
You partnered with Tiffany Haddish’s SheReady Foundation to supply youth in foster care with luggage. How is that going?
It has been a wonderful cause for us to be involved with and we are well on our way to achieving our goal of more than 1,000 suitcases donated and delivered to foster care youth this year. Additionally, to further provide support heading into the holiday season, on Giving Tuesday this year we donated 5% of all sales on Travelpro.com to the foundation.
OK, any last-minute advice for holiday travelers?
Be patient and considerate so everyone can enjoy the journey and the destination – this resonates more now than ever before.