Bad News for Travel and Tourism Brands: Vacation Shaming Is a Thing

Alamo study shows guilt-ridden Americans less likely to take trips and spend

Almost half of Alamo’s respondents have been vacation shamed, while a third admit to doing it. Getty Images

This is the time of year when Americans, caught in the winter doldrums, start to think about where they’ll go away this summer. (In case you missed it, Jan. 30 was National Plan for Vacation Day.) And while that’s good news for the companies in the U.S. travel and tourism industry—which generated $1.5 trillion in 2017, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council—a new study suggests an impediment to growth may lie ahead.

You’re thinking it’s fear of a recession, but the reason is more immediate and far more sinister—shame.

According to a study released today by Alamo Rent a Car, a phenomenon called “vacation shaming” is on a marked rise for the first time since 2016, when the company first began tracking it.

Vacation shaming is the practice of managers making employees—or employees making their colleagues—feel guilty, ashamed or even frightened of taking time off. And to avoid those unpleasant feelings, a growing number of Americans are taking shorter vacations, or simply not taking them at all.

Last year, 41 percent of Alamo’s respondents reported being the recipients of vacation shaming, but this year, that figure is up to nearly half (48 percent). A third of American workers even admit to vacation shaming their colleagues, a dramatic rise from 27 percent in 2018.

Younger workers appear to be most vulnerable to the bullying, with 76 percent of Gen Z and 63 percent of millennial respondents “significantly more likely to feel vacation shame,” compared with 44 percent of Gen X workers.

But it’s not vacation shaming by itself that potentially affects revenues in travel and tourism; it’s consumers’ response to it.

Alamo’s survey found that 28 percent of employees have decided to take shorter vacations as a result of shaming, and 26 percent take fewer vacations, period. These figures represent increases of 4 percent and 5 percent, respectively. Shorter vacations and skipped vacations mean less revenue for hotels, restaurants, and various other businesses that depend on leisure travel spending.

Alamo isn’t the only one to notice this trend. Last year, Kimble Applications’ No Vacation Nation report found that less than half of us (47 percent) use all our vacation time, and 21 percent of us leave as many as five days a year unused. And though Kimble’s study didn’t use the term “vacation shaming,” it essentially identified it as a culprit. “Nearly two out of 10 [employees] say that they’ve felt pressured by their employer or manager to not take their vacation time off,” Kimble’s researchers revealed.

On its face, a shorter vacation might not seem like it would make much of an economic impact, but in fact, the loss of spending is actually quite significant.

According to Project: Time Off, an initiative of the U.S. Travel Association, the 52 percent of Americans who left vacation time unclaimed in 2017 essentially gave 705 million vacation days back to their employers—days they’d otherwise have been on trips, spending money. “The more than 700 million days that go unused represent a $255 billion opportunity that the American economy is not capturing,” the report said.

Alamo’s findings on the rise of vacation shaming revealed another disquieting detail: Those who left their vacation time unused were more likely to vacation shame their colleagues into not using theirs.

@UpperEastRob Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.