Feature Article - November/December 2008

Multi-Tasking Products for Multi-Taskers

Luggage & Leather Goods Respond to Today's Needs

By Catherine Eberlein Pfister


ulti-tasking various work and home responsibilities—and doing so on the run—is today's norm. It's not unusual for people to carry multiple items with them in order to maneuver whatever path their day takes from morning 'til night. Not only might they rely on their cell phone and BlackBerry, but chances are they're carrying an iPod, a laptop, workout gear or clothes for clubbing later, additional work from the office or school, items for the baby or grandchild, and maybe even a spare kitchen sink.

Consumers of all kinds realize the benefit of using travel goods to meet their changing needs and as part of their everyday, multi-tasking lives. It's a big reason behind consumer sales in travel goods hitting a record high of $22.2 billion in 2007, despite a slowing economy, according to Michele Marini Pittenger, president of the nonprofit Travel Goods Association. We recently spoke with Pittenger about her perspective on the industry, consumer needs and how that affects what you might select for your next incentive program.

PIP: What factors or trends have had the biggest impact on the luggage and accessories industry in recent years? How have these factors affected design, product innovations and the technologies used?

Pittenger: After 9/11, when security became a major focus, the industry responded quickly by introducing new products that helped travelers get through security more easily and efficiently. TSA locks (that can be opened by TSA personnel), travel bottles for liquids that come in clear pouches and now checkpoint-friendly laptop bags are all products that provide convenience for the traveler.

With the rise of airline fuel prices, lightweight products were developed to meet the new weight restrictions; we've seen new materials such as polycarbonates and other lightweight materials incorporated into the structure of a bag. And, of course, the increase in use of personal electronics has brought a new focus on larger handbags and totes that help organize our traveling life and meet our desire for portability in our everyday life. Add to this the merging of fashion and utility in travel products, and you've got more choices today than ever.

PIP: How is the travel goods industry meeting some of the challenges faced by today's travelers—for example, the tighter restrictions on carry-on items, weight limits and additional costs for checking luggage—as well as business people in general who need "a mobile office?"

Pittenger: Consumers want safety, convenience and portability. In addition to the examples I mentioned earlier, we're seeing more variety in sizes of bags, and they often combine functions. For example, more and more business cases are now on wheels, and they will accommodate not only laptops and files but also a change of clothing. Just about everything is available on wheels—carry-ons, duffels, business cases, even totes.

PIP: How is the industry responding to different demographic groups such as women, men, children, frequent business travelers, occasional travelers, etc.? What factors do buyers need to keep in mind when selecting items for incentive program recipients?

Pittenger: It's more an issue of what type of traveler you are buying for and knowing the following: What purpose will this bag have to serve? Is it for business? Vacation? Overnight, weekend trip, or longer? Does it need to accommodate electronics? Will it be used for airplane travel, car or commuting to work by public transportation and/or walking or biking? The answers to these questions will determine what type of bag to look for. Then you can take a look at what styles and colors are available, and which would be preferred by your recipient.

More and more we are seeing consumers creating a "wardrobe" of luggage that fits their particular needs. For example, you may have a duffel bag for quick overnight trips, a wheeled suitcase that can be carried on board an airplane, a larger suitcase if you take vacations that are longer than a week, and if you have a laptop, a bag that will accommodate it such as a backpack, combination handbag/laptop bag, or a wheeled business case. There is now such a wide variety of products in so many styles and colors. The secret is to buy what fits your recipient's particular lifestyle and mix and match as needed.