Talking Tourism: Not taking enough days off.

This article first appeared in Northwest Florida Daily News on Sunday, June 25, 2017.

Studies recently have shown that as a nation we’re not taking the full number of vacation days to which we’re entitled.

Judging by the number of cars on U.S. Highway 98 and along County Road 30A, you’d think that the world and his wife were on vacation and that they’d chosen to visit this particular paradise. It’s really good that so many people decide to share their vacation time with us.

However, all is not rosy with the state of U.S. vacations.

Studies recently have shown that as a nation we’re not taking the full number of vacation days to which we’re entitled. According to the U.S. Travel Association’s Project: Time Off, the average number of days vacation we receive is 22.6. Between 1976 and 2000 we took, on average, 20.3 of those days. Last year we only took 16.8 days.

During the survey, 41.9 percent said that they weren’t going to take a single day of vacation this summer. Of course, that could mean that people intend to travel at other times, but the indications are that people are just not vacationing.

Things are even worse here in the South, where 44.7 percent said they weren’t intending to take a summer vacation. That number was even higher among women (51.5 percent) and younger folks.

Why are we doing this? Apparently the number of people saying they can’t afford a vacation has dropped considerably. Most respondents to the various surveys indicate that they don’t feel they can be away from work, or no one else can do their job. This increases among Millennials, and particularly Millennial women, 46 percent of whom think it’s good for their bosses to see them as “work martyrs”.

Having run a number of companies over the years, this seems counterintuitive. Every good manager recognizes that a rested and refreshed worker is more productive than someone who is tired and burned out. It’s also a sign of a good manager that they organize their work life to ensure that the company can operate without them for at least a short time.

But this is a column about tourism, not business practices. The simple fact is that the country needs people to take vacations. One in 18 U.S. jobs is directly or indirectly involved in the tourism industry — that’s 7.6 million jobs. The accommodations and food service sectors each employ 1.9 million people. Here on the Gulf Coast, in Okaloosa County alone, it’s estimated that 32,405 were employed in the tourism industry in 2015. Direct spending by tourists brought in $2.9 billion, and the tourist-generated tax revenue (bed tax, sales tax, etc.) was $554.1 million in 2015 — and it’s increased since then.

There are indications that international tourism into the U.S. may be down this year (see last week’s column), so domestic travel is more important than ever. Obviously it’s good for your health to take vacation. It’s good for your family, too. However, given the benefits to jobs and the economy — especially here on the Gulf Coast — I’d say it’s your patriotic duty to vacation.

Talk to your friends and family and persuade them to visit us here. Share a little sunshine.

Martin Owen is an independent consultant to the tourism industry and owner of Owen Organization in Shalimar. Readers can email questions to

TALKING TOURISM: Promoting area’s hospitality jobs worth exploring

This article was published in the Northwest Florida Daily News on Sunday May 20. 2017.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the need to train our tourism and hospitality employees, and mentioned the new courses being set up by Northwest Florida State College in addition to those being offered by the University of West Florida. At a recent meeting I sat with folks from our accommodation providers, restaurants and attractions who were discussing the challenges they face. All agreed that the advanced training being provided is absolutely vital to our future as not only a growing tourist destination, but one that was constantly increasing its professionalism, and as a consequence the quality of its tourists. Higher quality equals higher spending.

One of the biggest problems they face, if not the biggest problem, is actually finding those employees. Every spring sees a rash of “Now Hiring” signs along the Emerald Coast. Companies look far and wide to fill the positions that will cater to our tourists throughout the season to come.

To read the rest of the column, please click HERE

NWFSC Hospitality program a boon for Emerald Coast

This column appeared in the Northwest Florida Daily News on Sunday April 30, 2017

I’m hooked on documentary TV programs that feature behind-the-scenes insights of famous hotels around the world. I’m amazed at how these huge organizations (and sometimes small ones) can distill the actions of so many hospitality professionals into one aim — that being to provide the highest level of service to each individual guest. If you’re a traveler, you know that great service doesn’t just happen. It’s a combination of talent, skills, training and endless practice to perfect.

In the Disney world, I understand you don’t interview for a job, you “audition” to become part of the “cast.” Some organizations talk about “putting on the show” before they face the public, but whatever it’s called, providing excellent hospitality service only comes naturally to a few people.

To read the rest of the column CLICK HERE

How to save a generation – from itself

Having been in the workplace for a long time and having always been in the travel and tourism industry, I consider it necessary – no, a duty – to take vacations. To travel to new and exciting places and have a good time. For me, the new experiences added to my professional knowledge. They gave me more ammunition to use in persuading my customers to spend money on travel, or allowed me to help my business travelers.

Now back in pre history, without the ever-on email, global communications and such, taking break always meant coming back to uncompleted work, piles of letter, lists of folks to be called back. That was the downside. The upside was the comments about the suntan, and the ‘Don’t you look rested’ remarks. Again, being in the industry helped and most folks I worked with and for looked on travel as an educational experience.

Indeed, one company insisted that in addition to vacation time, all our employees, from the front line staff to back office specialists like accountants and maintenance people took a long haul trip once a year – we were a long haul tour operator. We provide the ticket and the time. The idea proved its worth over and over. The people we worked with were motivated, knowledgeable, rested, and loyal.

A recent report by ‘Project:Time Off’ is called The Work Martyr’s Cautionary Tale – How the Millennial Experience will Define America’s Vacation Culture. It’s available to download for free.

It’s a fascinating and, to be frank, depressing work. It’s worrying from the point of view of a fellow human being, but frightening for our tourism industry. Although the report studies American attitudes, I have a feeling it applies to many nations.

Apparently the definition is based on belief that:

No one else at my company can do the work while I’m away
I want to show complete dedication to my company and my job
I don’t want others to think I’m replaceable
I feel guilty for using my paid time off

The workers who fit that definition tend to be slightly more female (52%), slightly less likely to be married (55% are married, compared to 62% overall), but what is most alarming is that they are overwhelmingly Millennials. More than 43% of work martyrs are Millennial, compared to just 29% of overall respondents.

I find all this strange given that this demographic have all the tools to take vacations, yet remain ‘in touch’ if they want to. Ubiquitous internet connectivity provides the means to avoid the backlog when you get back, or the ‘not being available’ worry – if you feel unable to cut the ties for a few days.

I’ll leave you to read the report, which if you’re in any sort of supervisory position you should. The future health of your employees and your organization depends on you being the change agent to modify this crazy mentality!

I mentioned this report to my researcher-in-chief (my wife!) who lead me to a Washington Post article ( about why Millennials apparently eat cereal. Long story short, although it’s simple to pour the

Breakfast at the Ashford Manor in Watkinsville GA. Definitely worth leaving for!
Breakfast at the Ashford Manor in Watkinsville GA. Definitely worth leaving for!

cereal out of the box, and add milk, you have to clean up the bowl and spoon afterwards! No comment on the apparent laziness of this, it’s more to do with needing to be working rather than cleaning. This also gives a reason for the massive increase in the sales of coffee pods which grew by 138,325% (yes, you read that correctly) between 2004 and 2014. I actually do approve of coffee pods, as the alternative to me was a fancy coffee machine which I felt I had to use. That resulted in way too many espressos a day….but I digress.

So the need to concentrate on work appears to be the reason for not taking vacations and not eating cereal. Interesting sociological points.

However, let me address my fellow travel and tourism professionals……

What are WE going to do about it? (The lack of vacations, not the breakfast choice)

Hopefully as they age, the Millennials will chill out and start to consider their position. They’ll realize that there’s more to life than always working, and that dedication to work and vacationing are not mutually exclusive. In the meantime we have the Boomers and Generation X to rely on. Although not for long. If this mindset continues, it could spread both up and down the generations.

How does the Industry react and how do we – who depend on people visiting our hotels, resorts, attractions, locales and areas; on using our airlines, car rentals, trains, buses etc – make the vacation experience compulsive?

It appears that Millennials only listen to their boss, with 30% saying the boss is their most powerful influencer. Boomers on the other hand list their families (25%) and their doctor (21%) as the most powerful. Only 13% of Millennials consider their doctor – which is not surprising given their age. Perhaps the Tourism Industry need to deal with the boss. Making deals with companies to persuade their employees to travel for leisure? Allowing employees to tack leisure trips on the end of business trips? Using leisure travel as a reward for good work?

I don’t have all the answers (call me for some of them!), but it is a question that our industry needs to address – maybe while you’re relaxing on vacation….