Take Back Your Vacation Movement Grows
by Harvey Chipkin /

With 429 million vacation days in America going unused, according to the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), a movement focused on convincing American workers to take all their vacation day, is growing rapidly.

A recent conference held in New York City—dubbed the Vacation Commitment Summit—featured speakers representing corporations, academia and the travel industry.

Number of unused days on the rise
Kenneth Matos, senior director of research for the Families and Work Institute, told attendees that the unused vacation epidemic is getting worse. In 2008, workers used 81% of their vacation days while last year that number plummeted to just 51%, he said.

Gary Oster, executive vice president of USTA, said, “Employers are not taking vacations away; employees are not taking vacation.”

Oster said that even at USTA, only 19% of the staff used all of their earned days a couple of years ago.

CEO Roger Dow launched an initiative to turn that around with an educational campaign and a $500 bonus if employees used all their days. In one year, the number of employees taking all their days soared to 91%.

Dow himself is setting himself up as a role model by taking vacations and telling employees about them. As far as the affect this has had, Oster said, “This has been the most successful year in the history of USTA as far as legislative and policy initiatives. We are doing things as an organization that we had never done before.”

If workers took their vacations, there would be a $160 billion increase in economic output because “people spend much more money when they are not working than when they are,” Oster said. If everyone took just one more day in earned vacation that would increase economic output by $73 billion, he added.

‘Project: Time Off’
Oster said that the recently renamed Project: Time Off is “a national movement to shift the culture so time off is not considered frivolous but essential to strengthening families and improving personal health, a business investment with proven returns and an economic necessity.”

The movement started at USTA with a focus on travel but, said Oster, “This is bigger than the travel industry. We’re in this for the long haul but this won’t happen fast and is not for the faint of heart.

“We know that by bringing organizations together to work in unison around transforming how Americans think about vacation. . . the economic benefits of taking time off are enormous,” he said. “More time off the job means better time on.”

A national conversation about taking vacations back has begun, as evidenced by a recent Time Magazine cover on the subject and coverage in media like the Ellen DeGeneres Show and the Wall Street Journal, Oster noted.

The travel industry view
USTA is now seeking to build a broad Project: Time Off coalition with 50 to 100 organizations taking part.

“We can’t be single voices in this,” Oster told Travel Market Report, adding that, ”We know this will be a long-term effort. It took 17 years to get this bad and will take years to turn it around. “

Camille Hoheb, managing director of Wellness Tourism Worldwide, said that travel agents want to sell “constructive rather than destructive” vacations for their clients.

A constructive vacation is focused on improving the lives of travelers and their families, she said. There are many forms of wellness tourism including cultural tourism, she added.

“Agents are seeing more and more demand for wellness travel and more agents are interested in this kind of travel for their own vacations.” Hoheb said.

“But this doesn’t have to be one thing or the other. You can have indulgence as well as wellness as part of a vacation; it doesn’t have to be a matter of deprivation.“

And Hoheb noted that several destinations have seized on the take-back-your-vacation movement. “Costa Rica leveraged our vacation deprivation with a campaign last year that they called ‘Save the Americans,’” she said.

MasterCard’s ‘One More Day’ campaign
Perhaps the most high-profile example of the take-back-your-vacation effort has been the campaign by MasterCard that features children encouraging their parents to take “one more day of vacation.”

Susan Kunreuther, executive vice president, Global Total Rewards for MasterCard, said the average American leaves 3.2 vacation days on the table and that MasterCard has found that its own employees left 4.2 days on the table.

The company did an internal campaign that reduced that number to 3.9 and the effort continues.

A number of companies are already taking vacations serious.

Joe Robinson, a work-life balance coach and trainer, said Evernote, a technology company, has an unlimited vacation policy – allowing associates to take as much vacation as they like as long as they do their work.

“Still, they have trouble getting people out the door so they pay $1,000 bonuses to those who take vacations.”

“Companies that are being positive about vacations, are starting to get broad attention,” said Oster. “The biggest benefit of some recent announcements by companies of unlimited vacation policies is that it has started a conversation in the media.”

We know that by bringing organizations together to work in unison around transforming how Americans think about vacation. . . the economic benefits of taking time off are enormous. More time off the job means better time on.

Gary Oster, USTA