In one more good sign for travel agents, the average number of days Americans took for vacation jumped to 17.2 days in 2017, the highest since 2010, and part of an increase that started in 2014 when the average was 16 days.
The average number of vacation days has been rising by small amounts every year since 2014, so the nearly half-day jump between 2016 and 2017 was seen as a strong indicator for the leisure travel industry, according to Project: Time Off, sponsor of a survey called State of American Vacation 2018.
Project: Time Off cautioned that a majority of Americans (52 percent) still do not use all of their vacation and 24 percent have not taken a vacation in more than a year. Additionally, the average American uses less than half of their vacation to travel, the group said, amounting to 705 million unused vacation days in 2017.
"While Americans are now using more vacation time, the benefits aren't being fully realized because most workers are using less than half of their time off for travel," said Project: Time Off vice president and report author Katie Denis. "When we forego travel, we miss out on defining moments, experiences and memories, and end up costing our economy, too.”
The survey estimates Americans earned 23.2 vacation days in 2017, compared to 22.6 days in 2016, potentially worth $255 billion in spend.
Vacation guilt still a factor
The survey’s authors believe vacation guilt remains the greatest factor in Americans choosing not to take a formal vacation. The organization says the study’s results indicate that workers feel concerned taking vacation would make them appear less dedicated or replaceable at their job. Some 61 percent of survey respondents expressing these feelings leave vacation time unused.
However, Americans who take the majority of their vacation days to travel (75 percent) report higher rates of happiness than workaholics who barely take any time off for vacation. For example, when asked about whether they are happier in their personal relationships, 79 percent of the “mega-travelers” said yes, versus 66 percent of the workaholics. Similarly, 59 percent of those taking most of their days off for vacation said they were happy with their company, versus 46 percent of those who rarely took vacation time to travel.
The survey showed, once again, that taking vacation time to travel does not hurt a person's career prospects. More than half of the vacationers reported receiving a recent promotion, compared with 44 percent of those who don’t travel much.
And companies are starting to encourage more vacations, too, the study says. The percentage of workers who say their company's culture encourages vacation jumped five points from 2016. These employers may be seeing the benefits in higher employee engagement, the study proposes, which could lead to financial benefits like lower absenteeism, higher productivity and retention.
Companies encouraging a vacation culture have happier employees (72 percent of respondents) compared with those employers who are discouraging or ambivalent to vacations (42 percent). Employees in companies encouraging vacation are also much happier with their jobs (68 percent) than those at companies that don’t promote vacations (42 percent).
"Companies are increasingly realizing that an encouraging vacation culture has the power to positively influence the bottom line," Denis added.
The survey was conducted online by GfK from Jan. 4-23, 2018 with 4,349 American workers, age 18+, who work more than 35 hours a week, and receive paid time off from their employer.