2010 Vacation Outlook: As Economy Recovers, So Will Worker Vacations

With the pace of downsizing and the price of gasoline on the decline as we head into the peak vacation season, the nation’s workers may be more willing and able to use additional paid leave this summer, according to the workplace experts at Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

Increased travel this summer will boost consumer spending in tourist destinations, which will lead to increased hiring among hotels, restaurants, shops and amusement venues.

“The travel industry and all of the related beneficiaries will not see a return to pre-recession boom times, but it will be a significant improvement over the last couple of years. It is important to remember that many Americans are still unemployed and are likely to postpone most travel plans until they regain employment,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., the global outplacement and executive coaching firm.

“Where we will see the change this year is among the employed who, despite their job status, were hesitant to take paid leave during the recession for fear that it would further erode their already fragile job security. This year, while employers have been slow to ramp up hiring, they have clearly shifted from a strategy focused on downsizing to one emphasizing retention. In this environment, it is much easier to put in for vacation days,” said Challenger.

Indeed Challenger data shows a dramatic decline in job cuts. Through the first quarter, employers announced plans to cut 181,183 jobs, 69 percent fewer than the 578,510 layoffs announced in the first quarter of 2009. The first-quarter total was, in fact, the lowest Q1 total since 2000. The declining pace of downsizing continued in April, as monthly job cuts dropped to 38,326, the lowest since July 2006.

“Last summer, workers were in job-protection mode. Those who didn’t have enough work to keep them busy were doing whatever they could to appear busy. For others, the layoffs brought on by the recession increased workloads, as remaining workers were asked to do more with less – fewer support staff, less productivity-enhancing technology and less training.

“The threat of downsizing never really disappears, but job security is in a much better place this year. Some employers may, in fact, encourage workers to use vacation time to decompress. The temporary and very mild impact on workplace productivity caused by vacationing staff is more than offset by a rested workforce that is likely to be more productive over the long term and probably more loyal, as well,” said Challenger.

Helping to spur overworked employees’ travel plans are falling gas prices at a time when they typically increase. The most recent data show that the nationwide average price for a gallon of gas heading into the Memorial Day weekend dropped to $2.79, according to the weekly survey issued by AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service.

The combination of improving job stability and falling gas prices are already leading to increased travel plans. A separate AAA survey shows that 28 million Americans plan to travel by car over the Memorial Day weekend. The AAA found that overall 32.1 million Americans will take trips away from home over the upcoming holiday weekend, which is up 5.4 percent from the 30.5 million Memorial Day travellers in 2009.

Further evidence that Americans are ready to spend more on summer travel comes from travel website TripAdvisor.com, whose 2010 family travel survey found that 92 percent of travelers with children plan to take at least one family vacation this year, up from 88 percent in 2009. Meanwhile, 28 percent of travelers with children expect to spend more on family trips in the coming 12 months than they did in the past 12 months, with 22 percent expecting to spend between $3,000 and $5,000 and another 19 percent expecting to spend $5,000 to $8,000.

These spending levels will undoubtedly help the local economies that serve as tourist destinations. Employment within tourism-related industries is already reaping the benefits. The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that employment in the leisure and hospitality industry grew by a non-seasonally adjusted 581,000 in March and April, including 403,500 in the accommodation and food services sector.

“We may continue to see job growth throughout the summer, if some employers underestimated the number of seasonal hires they will need. The areas that could see the biggest hiring boom are destinations favored by driving vacationers. Seasonal job seekers who are willing to go where the jobs are could find ample opportunities,” said Challenger.

As for vacationing workers, Challenger said that while job security is improving, it is still recommended that they keep the lines of communication open with their employers.

“You don’t have to spend a part of every vacation day working, but you want to take your cell phone and laptop and make an effort to occasionally check in with the office. If you want to be missed a lot, do not disconnect. If you are a team manager, stay in touch with your team members. Make sure supervisors know your e-mail and cell phone number just in case you are needed,” said Challenger.

“As employers shift toward retention mode, many will be eager to let you enjoy your vacation without interruptions from work, but make no mistake, your efforts to remain connected, even if unnecessary, will be appreciated and remembered.

“Technology has become so portable and so affordable that there really is no excuse anymore for not staying in touch. You really don’t even have to lug your laptop around anymore. Innovations like the Blackberry and iPhone make it possible to stay connected without being obtrusive.

“It is very possible to have an enjoyable, relaxing vacation and still maintain communications with employers and/or customers,” said Challenger.

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