The United States is the only advanced country that doesn’t have legislation guaranteeing that all workers get some paid vacation time every year, which leaves about a quarter without any vacation days. Feeling that most Americans don’t know about this issue and something should be done about it, Hotels.com recently launched its Vacation Equality Project with the message that the U.S. should guarantee paid vacation days for all.
The lack of a federal guarantee “was raised to us in a meeting while discussing our brand and brand values,” Neha Parikh, vice president and general manager at Hotels.com, told ThinkProgress. “It seemed really surprising I guess, I certainly wasn’t aware of the fact.” She even challenged the agency they were working with at first, sure that it couldn’t be true. Then she assumed that everyone would still get vacation. “That was the second surprise,” she said.
“Being a company that really values time off and travel and vacation and being able to enjoy life, we couldn’t just sit by the wayside and not do something,” she said. The company debated whether to come out with a strong stance in support of guaranteed vacation time, but after it ran an independent survey that found that the vast majority of Americans don’t know there is no guarantee and the majority would support one, it decided to get involved. “All change has to start somewhere,” she said. “We’re a brand, but we’re also a group of people who have beliefs and values. Frankly we thought it was really important.”
The goals of the campaign are to raise awareness, both with the public and with the White House if it’s able to get 100,000 signatures on its We the People petition (it’s at just 12,655 with 10 days to go), and to get government officials interested in the issue. “It’s an important issue we hope gets added to the national debate on workplace issues,” she said.
If the campaign is successful and popular, the company would of course get some good PR from it. And one might think there is some self-interest in a hotel company promoting vacation time, but Parikh insisted that had little to do with it. “We didn’t go into this saying we’re going to help raise money for the travel industry,” she said. “To be quite frank, the majority of Americans who don’t get paid vacation time are not the type of people who necessarily will be able to afford big vacations.” The company, she said, simply values time off, and “it’s just as important to have a day off to spend with your kids, to watch little league games, school plays.” Any monetary benefit for the leisure industry would be “a secondary or tertiary benefit,” she said.
But clearly legislative change isn’t going to be immediate. Bills introduced in Congress to guarantee vacation time have gone no where. She said that the company is in it for the long run. “I don’t see this as a 30-day, let’s throw it out there and see what happens,” she said. “It takes a long time to drive change… We’re willing to stick it out.” The company doesn’t know what that might look like, but it does recognize that it will need to build a coalition to push it forward. “We’ve had some conversations with brands in the travel space and outside the travel space, people at the American Heart Association, brands or agencies we think could get behind something like this,” she said, although they are just preliminary conversations. “If we really want to get traction, we have to build broader coalitions, get more companies, more nonprofits, more people behind this.”
And while the company hasn’t had any direct conversations with lawmakers, it eventually wants to get local officials involved. She pointed to a bill proposed in Washington that would guarantee paid vacation days.
A big talking point of the campaign is that guaranteed vacation would help the economy, and there’s evidence to support that idea. The Americans who do get paid vacation still leave an average of three days unused each year, but if those were all taken and some of it was used for travel, a study estimated that it would increasing leisure spending by $67 billion and add $160 billion in business sales in the leisure industry (which would certainly help Hotels.com). There are also studies that show taking vacation time makes employees more productive and creative when they get back to work and improves their health.