Traditional Luggage Makers Overtaken by Hightech Smart Bags?

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Electronics For You Investigation: Are Indian travel goods players missing the smart luggage wave?

Travelers are asking for backpacks and suitcases powered by WiFi, GPS 4G and Bluetooth for remote locking, real-time tracking and theft prevention. Yet the biggest brands have nothing smart to offer, leaving the field open to newcomers. When will they catch up?

It is a sight one can increasingly see in major Indian airports. As hundreds of passengers, crane their necks at the baggage belts in the arrival hall, trying to locate their checked in bags, a few cool guys stand away from the crowd, looking at their smart phones.

Suddenly a beep sounds on their hand sets and they saunter over to the exact spot where their bag has emerged. Jadoo? No, just one of the technologies of smart luggage that frequent flyers are getting used to. And it is simple: a small Bluetooth tag is fitted to the bag and linked to an app on the owner’s mobile phone. When the bag comes within Bluetooth range, the phone beeps and the owner follows the intensity of the beep to locate the bag.

You can buy these tags for Rs 500 but increasingly travel luggage comes with built-in Bluetooth tags for location and sometimes GPS transmitters that help the owner track the bag at all times, and locate it if lost or stolen. Professionals who carry laptops prefer bags with a built-in USB port connected to a power bank inside so that they can recharge phone or laptop without opening the bag.

Smart features in a luggage bag

Tracking a bag, and weighing it

Air travelers always have a worry. Is my bag within the free check-in weight limit? The answer is difficult if you have done last minute shopping. But a smart bag will solve the problem. Recently launched in India, the Carriall brand of air travel bags in 20 inch and 24 inch size, have a weighing scale built into the handle in addition to an anti-loss tracker.

Another smart bag maker, selling online only, offers ‘Atlantis overnight cabin bags with USB, and a backpack with USB charger as well as Bluetooth distance alert. The prices between Rs 3000 and Rs 5000 compete with non smart luggage that India’s leading travel accessories players like VIP, Samsonite, American Tourister etc offer today. None of their India catalogues offer any smart luggage yet, though internationally Samsonite sells the $ 400 GeoTrakR where you can track your bag through mobile phone any where.

Global surveys emphasize smart luggage market

Perhaps leading Indian travel goods players have not read the latest (2019) Passenger IT Insights insights by SITA, the global travel tech company. The survey says: “Passengers are happier when technology smooths their way – especially when it comes to tracking their baggage via mobile apps. Mobile notifications during luggage collection have resulted in the biggest technology-driven improvement in satisfaction during air travel (8.6 per cent). The research involved passengers from 19 countries across the Americas, Asia, Europe, Middle East and Africa, representing over 70 per cent of global passenger traffic.”

Another survey by InnovateInsights ‘Global Smart Luggage Market 2018 by Manufacturers, Regions, Type and Application, Forecast to 2023’ says, “The market is expected to grow on account of growing penetration of Internet of Things (IoT). Features such as traceability and advanced locking system are credited to the increasing use of such products.”

Bag with built-in SIM

One premium international brand that Indian travelers are forced to buy in places like Singapore or Gulf states is BlueSmart which costs Rs 50,000 for a 22-inch hard bag and includes a 10,000 mAh charger and a built-in 4G SIM so that you can remotely lock and unlock the bag using your phone.

While the showrooms of leading Indian luggage makers are still offering non smart bags, you can buy many of the newer smart bags online at places like Amazon. There is hardly any marketing being done. Though last week Carriall formally launched its smart bags and has used celebrity endorsements on YouTube by Page 3 personalities like Shahid Kapoor and Disha Patani to reach their target audience of the Young and Restless.

Meanwhile new brands are being offered to Indian customers everyday. Uberpack recently launched a range of travel bags including an imitation leather laptop bag with 10,000 mAh power bank for less than Rs 5000.

The traditional luggage sector seems not to have noticed: but a smart new garam hava is sweeping through the business and unless they respond and ‘smarten’ their offerings, they may be overtaken by brash, young players who seem to know just what tech-friendly travelers are asking for.

This story is written by Anand Parthasarathy. His rich experience, reporting ACE (Appliances and Consumer Electronics) stories encompasses working 15 years with The Hindu as its IT Consulting Editor. He is a qualified instrumentation systems engineer who has worked for 20 years as a scientist on numerous defence R&D projects, and as a project manager for surface-to-air missiles at DRDO.

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