A New Year’s resolution caught my attention as I scrolled my Facebook feed a few days ago. It was a photo of a middle-aged fellow sitting on the hood of his car staring thoughtfully into the sunset across a wild, open field. “2015 Resolution: explore the upside of downtime,” posted The Travel Effect.
Back in October, U.S. Travel Association CEO Roger Dow was on CBS This Morning talking about “The Travel Effect,” a study by Oxford Economics that concluded that Americans lost 169 million days of paid time off in 2013. That’s right. We simply left some $52.4 billion in benefits surrendered, untouched, unused, never-to-be-reclaimed on the table. A nation of “work martyrs” Dow called us, unmatched anywhere else in the world. “America’s work martyrs aren’t more successful. We need to change our thinking. All work and no play is not going to get you ahead—it’s only going to get you more stress,” he said.
As I shared with readers a couple of weeks ago, my 2015 resolution is to live life as though every day is “the day before.” The day before “what” is irrelevant, because we never know a day is the day before until the next day when “what” happens. I think The Travel Effect and I are on the same page. At the least, our resolutions bolster one another: do wonderful things, go to fantastic places, and treasure every moment. I wonder if the man in the Facebook post did what I did.
I got a head start on my resolution. My family left the decorated tree, decked halls and wadded paper piled in the corner as soon as the last gift was unwrapped, and we took a Christmas vacation.
We’ll never know what Facebook guy did or didn’t do. But we do know that more Americans than ever before got wanderlust for Christmas. Perhaps a better way to say it is that wanderlust is the result of the gift we are all enjoying at the gas pump these days.
According to AAA in an article released just prior to Thanksgiving’s kick off to the 2014 holiday season, the average price of gasoline then was 70 cents lower than the holiday season last year. “Lower gas prices are filling stockings with a little more cash to spend on travel this year as travelers are expected to pay the lowest prices since 2009,” said Marshall L. Doney, AAA President and Chief Operating Officer. “Lower prices are increasing disposable income and enabling families to set aside money for travel this year.”
Gas prices started a vigorous fall in late summer. AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report shows that by Christmas week, Texans were spending more than a dollar less per gallon to fill our tanks than we did Christmas week 2013. Doney credits the backward slide as a major contributor toward the increase in Americans’ disposable income, 3.5 percent higher from year-ago levels at Thanksgiving. And that extra jingle in our pockets encouraged millions of us to get in the car and drive.
AAA defines a road trip as a journey of 50 miles or more from home. Of the nearly 100 million Americans who added such a getaway to their holiday schedule this year, 91 percent of us drove versus flying or cruising through our holiday. Again, the savings on gas is just too good to pass up.
I realize the repercussions of low gas prices at the global level are far-reaching and politically charged. At the “just-us-folks-and-our-dollars-at-the-pump-level,” however, all this moving around is a really good thing. Travel is responsible for more than $2 trillion in national economic impact and $134 billion in tax revenue. To make it personal, the U.S. Travel Association states that you and I would pay almost $1,100 more in taxes every year without travel’s cash flow.
While we happily pump away at retro cost, Denton is raking in extra cash as well. For instance, Denton’s hotel industry is realizing the highest city-wide occupancy rates we have ever seen, up five percent over last year. Average daily rates for Denton hotel rooms are up $5.61 and hotel tax receipts were already $82,000 higher at the end of the 3rd quarter 2014, and will no doubt exceed projections for the year. According to the Texas Governor’s Office of Tourism, the impact of travel spending on our city is upwards of $176 million, $3 million more than year-end 2012. Very impressive indeed.
Resolve this year to embrace The Travel Effect. Be good to yourself, embrace your time off and discover the upside to downtime.