Whoever thought a trip to the local mall could turn into an African safari, a cruise to the Caribbean or a stroll through the streets of Paris? With a new concept called Samsonite World of Travel, Warren, R.I.-based Samsonite Corp. entices customers with simulated travel destinations, while providing a one-stop travel shop.

Samsonite World of Travel opened last December in Tysons Corner Center in McLean, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C. The prototype carries a variety of travel products - everything needed to plan and take a trip.

"Samsonite World of Travel is a one-stop shopping place," says Paul Ouellette, vice president of store development for Samsonite Company Stores. "By that I mean you can purchase the trip itself, use our informational resources to research a trip, purchase the airfare or the vacation package itself, purchase travel accessories and small items you need for your trip, and purchase the luggage to put it all in."

Designed to resemble different travel experiences, the store includes an information area where customers can research destinations and even plot out specific routes for their trips. Provided by Skokie, Ill.-based Rand McNally, the reference area includes books, atlases and globes for customers to browse in the store or purchase. Interactive computers provide travel information that customers can print out and take home. As part of an agreement with Samsonite, Rand McNally also offers a training program for all Samsonite World of Travel employees.

"Today we are using a virtual travel agency in the store," Ouellette says. "You can research online and book a trip through the Samsonite Internet site." Future plans for the store include the addition of an in-store travel agency.

While Samsonite World of Travel draws customers because of its comprehensive selection of travel merchandise and its travel resources, the most noticeable appeal is its design.

"We attempted to put as much theater into the store as we possibly could," Ouellette says. "The concept from a construction standpoint was to make the environment as enticing and as connective to the type of travel as possible. We wanted customers to walk through an area of the store and really feel as though they were in that travel destination and really get in the mood to take that trip."

The focal point in the front of the 5,000 sq. ft. store is a rotunda that houses changing exhibits. Currently, the area shows a golfing scenario, complete with a golf cart, a putting green and video screens showing golf courses and golfers at play.

In one area of the store, all types of products needed for a business trip appear in a setting recalling the high streets of London, complete with sounds of the city in the background. In one leisure area of the store, the setting is an African safari, while another area portrays a Caribbean vacation with the sounds of calypso music. The adventure area features a real waterfall, and products include backpacks and portable communication devices.

"You can engross yourself in the environment," Ouellette says. "We want to make getting ready for the vacation as much fun as the vacation itself."

To put travelers in the mood for a trip, Samsonite used CD players playing sound effects, video monitors showing vacations and projectors creating images of different destinations. For example, rustling leaves are projected on the wall of the adventure area.

In creating a travel-oriented atmosphere, Samsonite's goals were to promote its products in the right environment and to fulfill all of a customer's travel needs. Samsonite began opening retail stores in 1988, which included its Travel Expo stores and its Samsonite Company Stores. The Travel Expo stores are typically in power centers, and the company stores are in factory outlet shopping centers.

"What Samsonite World of Travel has over our other stores is that it carries more current, first-line innovative products - the best that Samsonite has to offer today," Ouellette says.

In deciding where to locate the prototype store, Samsonite looked at the top ten malls in the country. The company chose Tysons Corner because research showed a high concentration of its customers were in that area, Ouellette adds.

Although Samsonite is still working on the details, it plans to open three more World of Travel stores this year in major metropolitan cites. The company believes the stores will do well in inbound/outbound cities where there are major airports.

Contact: Paul Ouellette, vice president of store development, Samsonite Company Stores, 91 Main Street, Warren, R.I. 02885; (401) 245-2100.