After a yearlong layover, travel brands are ready for takeoff

After a year spent grounded, travel brands are ready to meet the large share of consumers in "revenge travel" mode.

Sarah Drumm

Editor
Cadence is a brand of capsules you can take on the go. (Photo: Thingtesting)
CATEGORY DIVE

After more than a year of staying as close to home as possible, it seems that many of us are in desperate need of an escape. As an act of rebellion, the holiday plans of some affluent millennials are shaping up to be big, bold and unapologetic.

According to Skyscanner, 55% of people around the world are planning to go on vacation in the next six months, with 39% planning getaways lasting more than two weeks. Speaking to Refinery29 last week, an IMS Travel advisor said that millennials appear to be in “revenge travel” mode, no longer worrying too much about budgets and booking “bucket list” trips like going on safari or to tropical islands.

A tumultuous year for travel

This news comes off the back of what can only be described as a catastrophic year for the global travel industry. As shelter-in-place orders came into effect across the world, airlines were forced to cancel flights, hotels closed their doors to guests, and brands selling suitcases, travel-sized cosmetics, and other products that are designed specifically with going places in mind, found themselves without customers.

In a Medium post published in April 2020, suitcase company Away outlined the damage: sales had declined by 90% from the year before, the founders suspended their salaries, and more than half of the company’s workforce was furloughed, with 10% more laid off. Across 2020, the company’s revenues declined by a total of 50% (to $135 million), according to The Information.

It was not the only one struggling. Victor Tam, the founder of Canadian suitcase company Monos, says sales dropped 70% year-on-year in March and April 2020. The company pulled the purse strings as tightly as possible to weather the storm, cutting almost all advertising spending and even giving up its shared office space. Tam estimated that Monos could last 12 months at zero revenue.

Monos, launched in 2019, saw demand for its suitcases drop at the start of the pandemic. (Photo: Monos)
Travel brands go into survival mode

But it wasn’t long before sales picked up again, says Tam, as people began switching out their usual summer holidays with close-to-home adventures. “We were most hard hit in March and April, but were able to pick right back up in May all the way to having out best month in November,” he explains, adding that sales were up 400% year-on-year in that month. “We grew around 500% overall in 2020 compared to 2019.”

This success was, in part, due to the launch of several new products – an $90 ultraviolet sterilizing wand, which can be used at home or while traveling, and a line of soft backpacks and weekend bags (more suitable for local road trips than a hard-shell suitcase) which launched in November. Also noting the rise in local travel, last summer luggage brand Paravel launched two sell-out products: a belt bag with pockets to keep items like masks and hand sanitizer easily accessible, and a beach tote for road trippers. Meanwhile, Away has kept the new product launches coming, with the introduction of a pet carry case in August, a range of soft luggage in November, and most recently a collection of sleep masks, neck pillows, blankets and other cozy travel accessories in April.

For Lazy Cloud, which sells single-use self-care items that are designed to be used while traveling, surviving the pandemic meant looking to other markets. The brand’s founder, Annie Chen, decided to relocate to from New York to Taiwan, shifting the company’s focus to Asia.

“I saw a huge opportunity here, because we never were in any kind of lockdown, luckily. Travel was still going on here, domestically,” Chen explains. “We started seeing people going nature traveling, and on camping trips, and so we saw a need for our wipes.”

Floyd's retro-inspired suitcases. (Photo: Floyd)
A cautious return to travel

Despite the media chatter around revenge travel and over-the-top holidays, when looking ahead to summer 2021, brands are cautiously optimistic.

According to TripAdvisor, while 67% of Americans are planning to travel between June and August, the majority are intending to drive, rather than fly, to their destinations - suggesting that while restrictions may be easing up, people are still showing a preference for travel experiences that are close to home and can be easily self-contained.

Tam says domestic travel is likely to be the biggest driver for Monos’s sales this summer. “We don't see a ‘full’ normal, or close [to it], until late 2021 to Spring/Summer of 2022,” he adds.

Now restrictions are easing up back in the U.S., Lazy Cloud is planning its return to the American market. But Chen agrees that it’s not going to be as simple as turning the sales tap back on. She says Lazy Cloud needs to think about its wider purpose and the brand's responsibilities now that people are making travel plans in an almost post-pandemic world.

“I used to think it was bad timing when we launched,” she says, noting that stay-at-home orders hit the U.S. just one month after Lazy Cloud went live. “But we took it as an opportunity to redefine our role in the market, and to start thinking about how we could shift our messaging.”

She says travel brands need to tread sensitively, and help people ease back into something they desperately want to do – go on holiday – but may still have hesitancies.

“We have seen a lot of people getting vaccines, and saying they're planning their next trips, but the truth is [many of us are] still worried about traveling and being in contact with other people,” she says. “It’s a habit that we’ve [now] developed. We’re trying to be as supportive as we can.”

Launched today, Nori is a steam iron you can take on the go. (Photo: Thingtesting)
Feel good purchases

As a cosmetics brand, Chen says the focus will be on helping people continue the self-care routines they have developed during this period while they are on the road. She also says that Lazy Cloud’s return to the U.S. will be accompanied by the launch of a line of “relaxation” travel products.

Others, such as Paravel and Samsonite-owned luggage brand Tumi, are reportedly exploring whether they can create suitcases and bags with anti-microbial materials.

German suitcase brand Floyd, meanwhile, says it has seen increased interest from retailers that are looking for products that spark a sense of optimism and nostalgia. The brand’s suitcases all sport polyurethane wheels – the type found on 1970s skateboards.

Founder Bernd Georgi says Floyd’s colorful suitcases are now stocked in a dozen stores worldwide, with boutique retailers like Merci in Paris and Rinascente in Milan both reaching out during the pandemic to strike deals.

“Because we are still so small, we haven’t been affected [by the pandemic] too badly. What was a bit strange was that people kept on buying,” Georgi says. “I was asking myself, ‘what are they doing with suitcases? They can’t travel.’ But I think many people brought the cases as a symbol of better times. I mean, we’re not just selling suitcases. We’re selling a feeling, and people seem to like that feeling.”

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