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Travel Goods Association Releases State of the U.S. Travel Goods Market 2000-2011; Sales Improve in 2011, but at a Cost

Princeton, NJ — Travel goods sales improved in 2011, but at a cost, according to a new report released today by the Travel Goods Association (TGA). Travel goods are defined as luggage, backpacks, travel/sports bags, business cases/computer bags, handbags, personal leather goods, and luggage locks. TGA estimates that sales of travel goods in 2011 returned to pre-recession levels, with U.S. consumers spending an estimated $21.2 billion in 2011 on travel goods, up a very healthy 14.5% from 2010.

Those numbers don't tell the whole story, however, as volume sales in 2011 increased a much smaller, but still healthy, 8.3% over 2010 — meaning higher prices made up the difference.

"The American public was ready to spend again on travel goods in 2011," explains Michele Marini Pittenger, TGA's President.

Sales in most travel goods segments achieved significant gains in 2011, but, continued Pittenger, "consumers continued to buy only the things they perceived they needed," as sales of handbags remained the only major category to continue to suffer sales declines in 2011.

The higher prices consumers were willing to pay across the board in 2011 presented a doubled edged sword for the industry.

"This fact confirms that U.S. travel goods firms continued to find the right formula in 2011 to give consumers exactly what they wanted," commented Pittenger, "even if that meant consumers had to pay more."

"But," continued Pittenger, "rising prices regrettably did not mean higher margins for the industry."

"To the contrary," cautioned Pittenger, "price increases only covered a fraction of the spiraling costs the industry suffered throughout the supply chain," from rising material prices and fast-growing transportation costs to escalating manufacturing costs, meaning "that margins got squeezed in 2011."

Pittenger concluded, "Going into 2012, the outlook for the U.S. travel goods market is cautiously optimistic. As long as the industry continues to provide consumers with the product they want, those consumers will continue to buy our product, even if it costs a little more. At the same time, any new price shocks to our supply chain, such as skyrocketing energy prices, could damage the industry."

Here's a quick look at how TGA estimates each of the major travel goods categories performed in 2011:

As more people returned to the air and to their cars in 2011, they also returned to the stores to buy luggage. Even more restrictions on luggage and new luggage fees also helped luggage sales as people looked for the right luggage to meet their needs. According to TGA estimates, luggage unit sales grew 4.4% by volume and 17.3% by value over 2010. Prices also continued to recover from the deep discounting of the previous few years, with the average unit price for luggage increasing 12.3% in 2011. Talk of $5 a gallon gasoline and rising air fares, however, could dampen prospects for continued growth in 2012.

Backpacks were consumers' #1 choice for the travel goods they needed to buy in 2011. As a result, backpack sales continued to surge in 2011. And backpacks apparently aren't just for kids anymore; American consumers bought an estimated 129.3 million backpacks in 2011, mostly on the back of a very strong back-to-school season, combined with a growing interest in alternative vacations in the great outdoors as well as the growing use of backpacks in the business world. TGA estimates that unit sales of backpacks increased 19.5% by volume and 24.9% by value in 2011. And with backpacks as a top need for consumers of all ages in 2011, unit prices continued to recover, increasing 4.6% for the year.

Travel/Sports Bags
Travel/sports bags — from "freebies," or promotional bags, to new variations on the duffel bag — continued to be popular in 2011. TGA estimates that unit sales of travel/sports bags in 2011 grew 10.1% and dollar sales grew 19.2%. And, direct to consumer sales accounted for a larger part of the category in 2011, as the average unit price rose 8.3% for the year.

Business Cases/Computer Bags
Sales and prices for business cases and computer bags continued to recover in 2011. TGA estimates that total unit sales of business cases and computer bags in 2011 grew 6.9% by volume and 21.1% by value. With the job market more stable, consumers wanted to improve their professional image and were willing to pay more to get it. TGA estimates that the average unit price for business cases and computers bags rose 13.3% in 2011.

In the case of handbags, need won out over love in 2011. Consumers continued to view handbags not only as a luxury in 2011, but as a luxury they couldn't really afford. TGA estimates that unit sales of handbags in 2011 fell 6.0%. Dollar sales, on the other hand, increased 5.7%, meaning that those still in the market for handbags were willing to pay more for what they wanted, on average, 12.5% more. One must keep in mind though, that even with these not-so-cheery numbers, Americans still bought an incredible 233 million handbags in 2011. In other words, almost every female above the age of 14, on average, bought two handbags in 2011.

Personal Leather Goods
New iPads, iPhones, Androids and other smart phones drove sales of personal leather goods in 2011, with TGA estimating unit sales up 9.9% and dollar sales up 14.7% during the period. And people were willing to pay more to protect their new gear with the right product, with average unit prices up 4.4% in 2011, continuing a reversal of long downward trends in prices for personal leather goods.

Luggage Locks
Thanks to airline luggage fees and TSA security screening procedures, the bottom continued to drop out of luggage lock sales in 2011. TGA estimates that unit sales of luggage locks in 2011 fell 15.0% and dollar sales dropped 11.5%. The only silver lining, if there is one, is that the long slide in luggage lock prices continued to reverse course, with prices growing a modest 4.2% in 2011.

For more information, go to TGA's just released State of the U.S. Travel Goods Market 2000-2011 Report (PDF format) or contact TGA at 877-842-1938, x-705 to learn more about the latest trends in the U.S. travel goods market.

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