Stock - Samsonite's Paul Melkebeke
Samsonite's Paul Melkebeke: "The consumer needs for domestic travel are vastly different from those flying inter-continental - but we will be there when all sorts of travel picks up further." Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: Clearly, a backpack will no longer cut it when catching a flight.

Something far deeper has changed in any travel experience that involves heading for an airport anywhere in the world, passing through the terminals and, finally, board a flight. “We were catching flights like we were hopping onto a bus,” said Paul Melkebeke, President, Asia-Pacific and Middle East, Samsonite International. “Travelling after COVID-19 (and its latest variant Omicron) has turned into taking more conscious decisions.

“But one thing remains the same – planes are full whenever people are allowed to travel. Even when dealing with the worst-case scenarios from Omicron, it will only delay the return to flying, not stop it.”

There is a lot riding for Samsonite, the world’s biggest name in the business of luggage, in people getting back to flying (or even taking any other form of transport with some luggage).

“We monitor closely the travel stats from IATA (International Air Travel Association), because there are strong linkages between those numbers and what we end up selling,” the official added. “We are confident that domestic as well as inter-continental flights will make that full return.”

Waiting game

If that means longer for the world – and its healthcare systems – to get a grip on the Omicron spread, then Samsonite is willing to play the waiting game. In the interim, what it can control, the US multinational is making changes.

So, out comes the luggage with special antimicrobial treatments. There is a doubling down on the hygiene factor, a clear need to stretch all available possibilities to convince the luggage owner of the added security.

Because it is not just travel itself that has changed, the whole bit of how it is done too has undergone that pandemic-enforced transformation. “People are prepared to have a better piece of luggage compared to before,” said Melkebeke. “As a brand, we are preparing ourselves how to emerge from the pandemic and live in the New Normal.

“When shoppers go to the store for a piece of luggage, we want them to see how much effort we put into our products on further innovations on the hygiene and sustainable journey. It is a more responsible journey all of us are on.”

Stock - Airline Travel
Wherever and whenever travel opportunities opened up, flights are running full. But the Omicron arrival has brought about fresh uncertainties. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Gradual return to form

In 2020, Samsonite saw sales drop nearly 60 per cent to $1.53 billion from $2.10 billion, with the pandemic the sole factor eating into those numbers. In response, the company speeded up counter-measures, most notably by bringing down its production and inventory.

“During these difficult times, our market share actually increased,” the official said. “Whether it was for the luggage with antimicrobial treatment or lightweight pieces, we gained with our brands, including Tumi, Gregory Mountain and American Tourister. In these times, people appreciate the value of brands. There is the Chinese New Year around the corner and that’s always a big moment for the country’s travellers and for our business.

“We are definitely not back at our pre-Covid levels – that could happen in 2023. If we need a worst case scenario, it might take a little bit longer than that. When it does, we will come back strongly.”

We have seen many companies not paying their suppliers - we made a point of paying all on time. That is what we can do as a market leader

- Paul Melkebeke of Samsonite International