At the World Travel Market in London last week, I spoke with a woman from Spain who was considering a transfer to her company’s U.S. office.
She had only one concern, which she said would be a deal-breaker for her: “I need my 30 days’ holiday. I understand you don’t get quite that many in the U.S.”
At a dinner the next night, I sat beside a German who was excited about visiting Orlando with his family in the spring. He asked me where else he should consider visiting.
I asked how much time he had. “At least two weeks,” he said. “I have 30 days’ vacation, and I must use it all before the end of the year. It’s a requirement of my company.”
Earlier that day, I had given a speech on U.S. travel industry and consumer travel trends. A British woman raised her hand and asked why Americans don’t take more long-haul trips.
I cited a study reporting that not only do Americans get fewer vacation days than their counterparts in Europe, but they tend to voluntarily leave a lot of those days unspent, working more than they’re required and vacationing less than they are entitled to.
A gentleman who works for a resort in the Maldives came up to me after the presentation.
“You’re right,” he said. “It’s very difficult for me to attract Americans. It takes two days just to get [to the Maldives] and back, and Americans don’t feel they have that time to invest in a vacation.”
It would appear that the vaunted American work ethic is actually quite damaging to the travel industry.
There was a period, near the beginning of the economic downturn in 2008 and 2009, when the long weekend in Vegas that many Southern Californians routinely took simply vanished; workers were afraid that if they were taking legitimate time off on a Friday, their absence might be noted when their bosses decided whom to lay off.
But job insecurity is only part of the problem. It seems almost comic to recall that for a good part of the 20th century, we seriously considered that technology might lead to a four-day work week.
Instead, it has led to seven; I don’t know anyone who doesn’t check their work email on evenings and weekends, and it’s not uncommon for friends to be absent from social events due to work pressures.
Moreover, it appears that we Americans are exporting our workaholic culture.
Although the Continental Europeans I spoke with seemed to hold vacations sacrosanct, there may be some erosion in the vacation habits of Brits.
On the opening day of WTM, its organizers issued an “Industry Report,” and within a section on the impact of taxation was this disturbing data point: Of 1,611 U.K. citizens surveyed, 38% didn’t take a vacation this year.
I should point out that a Brit’s view of a vacation is different from an American’s: For the purpose of this report, it was defined as being a minimum of seven nights long, while similar surveys of American travelers typically set the threshold at two or three nights.
The report also found that among Brits who did vacation, 59% took “only one” such vacation. Which means the remaining 41% of that group have already taken at least two one-week vacations by this point in the year.
Were it reported that an equal percentage of Americans had already taken at least two one-week vacations, it would be cause for industrywide celebration.
Nonetheless, although the 38% number was cited as evidence that travel-related taxes were suppressive (26% called taxes “a major issue,” while 5% said 2011 marked the first time they did not travel abroad due to increased taxes), the overall percentage of non-vacationers is surprisingly high for a European country.
If Americans are leading the world astray from their vacations, perhaps we can also help set a corrective course. The facts above lead one to wonder how much lift the industry would get if a campaign was launched simply to get Americans to take the vacation days to which they are entitled.
The same American who wouldn’t dream of leaving a paycheck uncashed thinks nothing of letting vacation days expire, unused, every Dec. 31. They should be shown the folly of their ways.
If they’re not too dulled by work to care. Email Arnie Weissmann at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter.