Study Shows Americans are Leaving Vacation Time on the Table

by Kerry Tice
Study Shows Americans are Leaving Vacation Time on the Table

Research shows that individuals who plan their vacations are more likely to use all their time off. Photo: Shutterstock


Can you imagine a world without vacations? As sellers of travel, I’m sure you’re all shuddering at the thought. And yet, according to research from Project: Time Off, Americans left 705 million vacation days unused last year. That means there is a one in four chance that the average person did not take a vacation in 2017. In fact, 24 percent of Americans report not taking a vacation in a year or more.

The Project: Time Off Coalition, an alliance formed by  the U.S. Travel Association in 2013, is the organization that has uncovered this alarming trend, namely that the last 40 years has seen American vacation usage decline dramatically. For decades, Americans took an average of 20.3 days of vacation, but, in 2000, usage fell below the long-term average and has yet to rebound. The good news is that the latest data is trending upward, with 17.2 days used in 2017. And while agents have their work cut out for them if they want to restore numbers to what was the standard, the opportunity to grow this number is ripe for the picking. 

Vacations breed happier Americans
The message the coalition is trying to send is that the impact of vacations is far-reaching. Not only do the millions of days that went unused represent a $225 billion lost opportunity, they also point to a society that is overworked and stressed-out. Conversely, the research shows that Americans who use most of their time off to travel are happier, healthier, less stressed and more likely to have been recently promoted.

“Our travel deficit is creating a void that work alone cannot fill,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “Those extremely under-vacationed Americans who have not taken a vacation in more than a year admit that they’re missing out on an opportunity to relax and reduce stress (49 percent); on experiencing fun, excitement and adventure (47 percent); and losing opportunities to make memories (40 percent).” 

Aiding travel agents in their mission to convert more Americans to the traveling public pool is an initiative launched by The Project: Time Off Coalition, a “National Plan for Vacation Day,” which was celebrated for the first time earlier this year (and will be annual going forward) on the last Tuesday of January. According to representatives for the association, Americans universally say that their vacation days are important to them, and yet more than half of U.S. employees (54 percent) leave time on the table.

Translation: Americans are in serious need of a break. One step to combat the issue is planning, say industry experts. Research shows that individuals who plan are more likely to use all of their time off, take more vacation days at once, and report greater levels of happiness at work and at home.

"The best thing Americans can do to help themselves take more vacation is plan their time out further in advance,” said Katie Denis, vice president and lead researcher for Project: Time Off. “National Plan for Vacation Day is an opportunity for the travel industry to come together to encourage planning when the year is fresh and the calendar is open." 

Positive impact on the workplace
Other findings of the study show that vacation improves workplace culture, retention and efficiency. The U.S. Travel Association is championing this particular finding by practicing what they preach. After an analysis of its employee vacation usage gave them a failing grade a few years ago, the association instituted an incentive program to encourage employees to use their vacation time. In a single year, the association went from 19 percent of its staff using all of their vacation days to 91 percent — and engagement and productivity skyrocketed as a result.

“Transforming our vacation culture has paid off in dividends,” said Dow. “Unfortunately, we are the exception to the rule. More than six in 10 (62 percent) of employees say their company culture is discouraging or says nothing about vacation.”

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