The Road Less Traveled

By Nate Herman

As I write this, Labor Day is signaling the unofficial end of summer. A summer like no other. Usually at this time, we are capping off huge sales of all types of luggage for the annual surge in travel by air, land, and sea with a spike in sales in backpacks, totes, and other travel accessories for the back-to-school season.

Instead, this summer we have taken the road less traveled…literally. And don’t even get me started on air and sea.

The patchwork re-opening of retail has been half-baked, hamstrung by lack of a national mask mandate, with small travel stores, the cornerstone of our industry, taking the brunt of constantly changing rules and no relief on rent like their larger neighbors.

Demand has been slow to recover, with air travel just getting off the ground but greatly restricted, car travel picking up but for much different trips, and the cruise industry grounded altogether.

And then back-to-school took on a whole new meaning with over half the country starting the school year partially or completely online.

However, our industry has embraced this summer’s unprecedented challenge the same way the industry overcame 9/11 and the Great Recession. Our industry has adapted, tailoring our product and how we deliver it to meet the consumer’s changing needs and evolving situation.

During this pandemic, Americans have embraced the great outdoors like never before – camping, hiking, biking, kayaking, boating, etc. And who supplied them the gear they needed – our industry. As families packed up and went to the beach or to the lake in droves, we provided the gear to make that happen.

How did we deliver? We followed our customers online so they could find the travel goods they needed, and have that gear delivered right to their front door.

Moreover, this Labor Day weekend, my family went camping at a national park. Not only was our campground, and every campground in the park, sold out, but the park was packed the entire weekend. Meanwhile, I don’t know of a single colleague whose family did not go somewhere this weekend – down to the ocean, to the lake, or up to the mountains. Frankly, it was one of the few times I was happy to see crowded roads and slow traffic.

This road less traveled is not without its potholes. Our industry still faces 25% punitive tariffs from the main supplier of our product, with no end in sight. And the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program, one of the few bright spots for our industry, whose duty-free access for travel goods imports from countries like Cambodia, Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, and Indonesia, is due to expire at the end of this year. We at the TGA are fighting hard for GSP renewal, but nothing is guaranteed in Washington, D.C.

And finally, of course, is what happens next with the pandemic, which regrettably, only time will tell. But I believe that by embracing the road less traveled, our industry just might find its way to the other side of this pandemic.

For more information, please contact TGA’s Nate Herman at or 202-853-9351.