Arnie WeissmannFormer Labor Secretary Robert Reich made an interesting proposal while voicing an opinion piece for American Public Media's "Marketplace" radio program last week: One of the presidential candidates, he said, should propose a mandatory three-week vacation.

He cited studies concluding that after people return from vacations, productivity goes up and health problems go down. For employers, it "translates into more productive workers, fewer sick days, less absenteeism and lower health care costs," he said.

Further, he argued, the hiring of additional workers to cover for people on vacation would create more jobs, pumping money into the economy.

Most Americans only get two weeks' vacation, he said, and one in four gets no vacation -- or even paid holidays.

While I'm not sure employers would hire extra workers to cover for vacationing employees, his proposed mandate could nonetheless lead to significant job creation and economic expansion resulting from the boost it would give the travel industry.

(For that matter, it would be a boon to the travel industry and economy if Americans were mandated to take even the two weeks of vacation to which most are entitled.)

It's not surprising that Reich forgot to mention the travel industry benefit in his proposal. Yes, the travel industry in the Western Hemisphere is bigger -- three times bigger -- than automotive manufacturing, a third larger than the chemicals and mining industries and provides 50% more direct jobs than financial services, according to an Oxford Economics study released by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) and sponsored by American Express.

And, the study points out, it's creating jobs more quickly than any of those other industries, even without a vacation mandate.

But it's telling that an economist like Reich, who has advised three administrations, didn't think to check in on the economic impact of travel and tourism even when talking about expanding vacation time. As large and important as it is, travel and tourism remains the Rodney Dangerfield of industries, without respect in proportion to its importance.

And despite supporting economic evidence, no politician would adopt Reich's proposal, out of fear of being ridiculed for introducing trivia into the campaign. It would be dismissed as pandering to workers wanting more time off.

We aren't taken as seriously as we ought to be, and this isn't a uniquely American problem. I've met scores of foreign tourism ministers over the past decade. Many are smart, serious and energetic. But there is a subset who I can only conclude are political hacks being rewarded with a cabinet-level position in return for party loyalty or connections to power.

The ministry of tourism also seems to be a favorite parking place for junior members of coalitions who were promised a ministry in a deal to stitch together a government.

Some world leaders apparently can't fathom that leisure activity can have serious economic implications; they see the words "tourism industry" as an oxymoron.

Progress is being made to overcome this disconnect, in Washington and on the global stage, thanks in part to the efforts of the U.S. Travel Association and the WTTC to shine a light on the economic benefits of travel and tourism.
Nonetheless, we're not yet at a point where a politician will propose a mandated tourism-related stimulus plan without risking credibility or, for that matter, will worry that he or she is putting credibility at risk by appointing a political hack to oversee tourism.

As Reich points out, vacations provide an escape from all that is serious and stressful. Its power to rejuvenate could extend into the economic arena, if only more voters and politicians understood the serious benefits of fun and relaxation.

• • •

I want to take a moment to recognize ARC and its CEO, Mike Premo, for their quick response to our article last week pointing out how some line items in ARC's monthly reports contain data that do not match what its labeling suggests. In an editorial, we noted that Travel Weekly would withhold reporting these statistics until we were more certain about what we were reporting.

Within a day of the article's publication, Premo announced that ARC would institute changes to clarify its data, starting with next month's report. We note and applaud the outreach and willingness to listen that has characterized Premo's tenure since his appointment last June, and we would be pleased to continue to report monthly ARC stats without interruption.

Email Arnie Weissmann at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter. 

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