Brands Promote Vacation Use to Boost Travel Bookings

Over half of U.S. workers (54%) fail to use all of their paid time off. That adds up to workers losing some $66.4 billion in forfeited benefits. In fact, over the past four decades, U.S. workers have gone from enjoying an average of 20.3 vacation days a year, to taking just 16.2 days per year—nearly a full week less than in 1978, according to data compiled by ProjectTimeOff, an initiative of the U.S. Travel Association.

Why is a travel association so worried about vacation time? Simple economics: The U.S. workforce’s failure to use vacation to just enjoy time off is costing the U.S. economy $236 billion in consumer spending, and an estimated 1.8 million travel and tourism jobs. Using just one more vacation day a year could impact the U.S. economy to the tune of $33 billion.

That’s why we are now seeing several marketing campaigns using vacation time as a key strategy.

Three Campaigns Urge Vacation Planning

If people take time to plan annual vacation days, the likelihood that people will use their paid time off greatly improves. Paid time off also increases a host of other benefits, including improved personal and work relationships; better physical health and well-being; improved outlook and mood; increased professional success, and better personal financial situations, reports ProjectTimeOff. These findings inform three current campaigns.

Ocean City, MD, has aired a vacation-themed effort featuring a peppy lifeguard for several years, but this year’s ad focuses on how we waste our paid time off on everything except having fun. The ad decries use of vacation days for an oil change, to renew a drivers license, to help the in-laws move… or (Oh, the horror!) to expire unused.

Elsewhere, online travel deal search site Booking.com has been running an ad with an on-her-last-nerve kindergarten teacher talking about how much she really needs her vacation:


And JetBlue Vacations coyly mocks typical vacation souvenirs with “Office Souvenirs” including phrases like “Remember those free bagels?” and “HR scented candles” to remind you of all those great times you had working (not).

Why Aren’t We Taking Vacations?

Surveys indicate that fear drives the trend toward not taking paid time off. Employees do not want to return to a mountain of work piled in the in-bin. Even more common is the fear of seeming replaceable. Companies that have reduced payroll and asked employees to double-up on responsibilities are adding to these fears, as employees feel they can’t take time off because they are the only ones who can do their particular jobs. Many employees feel guilt about taking time off for these very reasons.

Finally, six in ten employees said their bosses do not support their taking earned vacation days. Sixty-six percent of employees said “they hear nothing, mixed messages, or discouraging messages about taking time off.” Nearly every C-suite surveyed said they strongly believe it is important to their company cultures for employees to have time off to refresh and recharge. But that belief is not filtering down through middle management, where the pressure to meet goals and objectives may cause managers to reinforce the idea that vacation time is a bad thing.

Oddly, employees who take 10 or fewer days of vacation time are less likely to have received a raise or bonus in the past 3 years than those who took 11 or more days. However, they do experience a big increase in job-related stress, affecting their work performance and productivity… and that stress carries over into employees’ personal lives and relationships.

In smaller companies, even leaders feel guilty about taking vacation time. That is a big issue, since leader behavior serves as a model for employees.

Some U.S. Workplace Trends:

Work Martyrs: Busy-ness has become a badge of honor for far too many employees. The rest of the world thinks Americans are crazy for working so hard.

Constant Connectivity: Mobile phones encourage our tendency to remain engaged with work even while on vacation, but also make us fear that we cannot or should not leave. Too many employers and managers seem to think that employees should not “unplug” while on holiday.

Workations: Employees are expected to, or are made to feel they should work while away from the office.

Gig Economy: Contract workers don’t get paid vacation, and even full-time people are expected to be “on call” due to mobile technology and changing work practices:

Workaholics: Boomer and GenX managers are terrible role models. Fifty-nine percent of Millennials consequently feel “vacation-shamed” for taking time off. A 2016 Alamo Family Vacation Survey reported 47% of millennial workers feel they need to justify taking time off to their employers, in what stress management coach Joe Robinson calls “defensive overworking.”

Gender/Job Title: Women and senior managers are less likely to take vacation time than men, feeling they will be judged more negatively than men or younger employees.

The good news is, ProjectTimeOff’s 2017 vacation survey found people taking 16.8 days off per year, compared to the 2016 all-time low of 16.2 days. The USTA expressed cautious optimism that vacation attitudes in the USA are at a turning point. But if the above trends continue to inform vacation decisions, expect to see more travel and tourism brands emphasizing vacation use as a marketing strategy. 


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