The fact of the matter is, Americans leave tens of millions of paid vacation days on the table every year. To be exact, 768 million days, up 9 percent from 2017. Of the unused days, 236 million were forfeited completely, equating to $65.5 billion in lost benefits.

According to the annual Family Travel Association/NYU 2019 Family Travel Survey, 55 percent of parents who have paid vacation days said they didn’t use all of theirs in the previous year. That’s a greater percentage than all Americans (regardless of whether they are parents) who responded to the 2018 U.S. Travel Association’s Project: Time Off research.

Those are astounding numbers that send shock waves throughout the FTA and the travel industry at large. After all, those unused days represent bookings agents will never see if we don’t address the issue.

family vacations
Book your clients on a family getaway, even if it’s just a few days at a theme park. (Photo courtesy of Magic Family Getaways.)

When asked why they didn’t use all of their paid vacation days that could have been taken off, parents in the FTA/NYU survey said the number one reason was other household budget priorities (43%). The second most popular response was concern for the care of pets at home (32%), followed by the perception that family vacations are too expensive (31%).

Other important reasons that parents who participated in the survey related to were other aspects of the family budget, school attendance, and the inability for parents to work around the family’s complex and busy monthly schedules (those travel sports teams and other childhood activities).

What are families missing out on when they don’t take all of their paid time off, and prioritize vacations? When asked to rank the following reasons on a 1-5 scale (1 = do not agree at all, and 5 = fully agree), parents ranked the top five as follows:

  • I want to create more travel memories for my children as a family—60 percent
  • There are places I want to take my children to see before they grow up—57 percent
  • It is important to me that my children understand different cultures—57 percent
  • Travel brings us closer together as a family—50 percent
  • I want to make the most of the limited years available to travel with my children—48 percent
family vacation
Take the pledge, book family travel. (Photo courtesy of The Family Travel Association.)

We Can All Help

Families want to take vacations because they mostly understand the benefits. Who better to help them overcome their obstacles and perceptions than the FTA and qualified travel advisors?

That’s why, this year the FTA is launching #TakeFamilyTime, a national campaign to encourage parents and their children to make a pledge to prioritizing vacations.

Timed to coincide with National Plan a Vacation Day (Jan. 28, 2020), the FTA’s launch of #TakeFamilyTime will begin an ongoing national dialogue within families and members of the travel industry about our personal commitment to seeing more families take vacations.

We want parents and their children to have discussions about the importance of prioritizing vacations. We want families to think about how to configure household budgets so they can save for vacations of one size or another, and how to include everyone in the planning process so time can be freed up for everyone to get away together.

At the same time, the industry needs to consider the obstacles we create inhibiting families from vacationing more. More importantly, we want travel industry suppliers, destinations, and others—especially travel advisors and the media—to advocate for and support services that solve some of the biggest issues families face.

Now, this campaign is not necessarily about families taking expensive full-week vacations to Europe. Families should define a vacation on their own terms, and based on their own means. For some families that might mean a weekend road-trip. For others, it may mean visiting local historic sites, or places where families can pursue hobbies together, like kayaking and hiking. For those who can get away on a 7-day cruise, or a trip to Hawaii, more power to you.

The most important thing is that families concerned about the issues and perceptions that prevent them from taking more paid time off to vacation together, begin to form the habits of lifelong family vacationers.

family vacation
Help your clients make time for bucket list family escapes, such as a safari. (Photo courtesy of Carrie Simmons Travel with Kids.)

To learn more about #TakeFamilyTime and to see a PSA video we created, please visit familytravel.org, where our members have already begun discussing these issues, as well as how we in the industry can help.

This February, we’ll take this dialogue to our Facebook page, inviting travel advisors, family travel bloggers and influencers, plus industry experts, family psychologists and others to participate in a regular series of Facebook Live events

We’ll be adding to the campaign through a variety of other formats, so you will want to like our page and follow us so you can join the discussion, and maybe even become an FTA Member.

Most of the people I have spoken to in my long career in this industry have told me that their passion and career in travel started because they went on family vacations when they were young. The fond memories, the tattered photos pulled out at family gatherings, are all part of the common bond we share from experiences that touched us in a powerful way, experiences that launched us into our lifelong travel love affair.

It’s time we pay it forward, and help the next generations know the wonder and family love that comes uniquely through travel. Come join the #TakeFamilyTime movement.

For more from the Family Travel Association, click here.

Recommend magazine has partnered with the Family Travel Association to bring you monthly columns to help travel agents sell family travel. This column was written by Rainer Jenss, president and founder of Family Travel Association.