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The vacation curse of 'time poverty'

Special to the Chicago Tribune

"I'm tired as hell and I can't take it anymore. I need a vacation."

Whether those words are uttered, or simply thought, they pretty much sum upthe feelings of hard-working Americans, whether they're single, a couple ormarried with kids.

""The pace of work in contemporary life has gotten to the point where mostpeople would declare it frenetic," according to Peter Yesawich, chairman andCEO of Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell, a PR/marketing/ad agency, and adeveloper of the 16-year-old National Travel Monitor. Yesawich offered anadvance peek at the 2007 survey, which is based on a sampling of 1,800travelers in January and February, at a meeting of travel editors in LosAngeles in April.

Singles and couples normally can vacation at almost any time. For families,summer is the time, especially for those with school-age children. Familytravel, not surprisingly, is on the rise.

"Family travel [and that includes grandparents] this year will continue togrow faster than all other forms of leisure travel," Yesawich said in afollow-up phone interview. But in six of 10 households, both Mom and Dad workfull time. This means they are trying to juggle all of the other commitmentsin the family's schedule at the same time, Yesawich said. "Booking a vacationbecomes a Herculean challenge for them. And that translates into a growingsense of parental guilt -- that we don't spend enough time with our kids."

Although summer is prime holiday time and vacation days are in shortsupply, 57 percent of parents surveyed said they have no qualms about takingtheir kids out of school if they can't travel between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Other trends noted in the 2007 National Travel Monitor, which was released in May by Orlando-based YPB&R and Yankelovich Partners, include:

• Length of vacations. In many minds -- mine included -- a typical vacationis a week or two. In actuality, according to Yesawich, only 23 percent ofAmericans take what's called an "extended vacation" of five-plus days. Another23 percent take weekday vacations of four days or less, and 52 percent takeweekend vacations of less than four days including a Saturday stay. Yesawichsaid people taking longer vacations are over 55 and either retired orsemi-retired.

"Time poverty -- the sense of compression -- is real for family householdsin America," Yesawich said. "It's no wonder the most popular form of vacationis a weekend trip." And that, he said, "is particularly true for workingfamilies."

According to a World Tourism Organization chart used by Yesawich, Americansaverage 13 vacation days a year, while Italy's average is 42 days, France's37, Germany's 35, Britain's 28, Canada's 26 and Japan's 25.

• Dream vacations. When asked where they wanted to go in the next two years,68 percent of respondents chose Hawaii's neighbor islands (Maui, Kauai,Molokai, Lanai and the Big Island) and 67 percent chose the national parks.Other high-scoring destinations included Honolulu with 63 percent; FloridaKeys, 51 percent; San Diego, San Francisco and Orlando, tied at 43 percent:Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe, 42 percent, and Colorado mountain resorts and NewYork City, 41 percent.

Yesawich said travelers yearn to commune with nature, which explainschoices such as Hawaii and the national parks, and to be near water, thus SanDiego and the Florida Keys. He said 44 percent of people dream of taking acruise, but only 6 percent of adult travelers do.

• Getting there. When vacation time rolls around, 78 percent of Americansuse the family car for at least one getaway. For other trips, flying is thechoice of 48 percent. Rental cars, cruise ships, bus and rail transportationalso come into play, but for far fewer people.

High gas prices might lead some people to drive shorter distances, but"they are still going to take their vacations,"Yesawich said. Instead, "theymight trade down the quality of accommodations or budget more conservativelyfor food, beverages and entertainment."

When it comes to choosing an airline, 33 percent of travelers opt for alow-fare carrier, 23 percent the major airlines and 44 percent have nopreference. The number of people who fly to their destinations is increasingprimarily because of attractive fares offered by low-cost carriers, Yesawichsaid.

• Trip planning. When travelers get the itch to vacation, a whopping 66percent use the Internet to do their planning, including their search forairfares and hotels. Another 23 percent rely on the Internet and a travelagent for trip planning, while 5 percent use only a travel agent and 6 percentuse neither a travel agent nor the Internet, but rely on recommendations offamily and friends.

Yesawich observed that almost six of 10 leisure travelers now makereservations online, 6 percent more than last year. A third of the travelerswho use the Internet "tell us they would not make a reservation online with acredit card." Their concern, he said, is identity theft.

While the 2007 Travel Monitor focuses mainly on trends, the Travel IndustryAssociation, a trade group, and American Express released an online study inearly April on what 2,500 leisure travelers wanted from their vacations.

The ideal vacation, according to this sampling, consists of rest,relaxation and spending time with significant others. Respondents said theywould like to travel more by plane and ship, and would like to double thelength of their average trip.

An easy travel experience, fun, adventure and local flavor were also highon their list.

Barriers to an ideal vacation, the study found, were budget constraints,family and work responsibilities.

The TIA study said 62 percent of Americans generally vacation with spousesor significant others. Cities are the most popular destinations at 39 percent,followed by small towns and rural areas at 26 percent and ocean beaches at 23percent. The most popular activities? Sightseeing and shopping, tied at 51percent.

According to the TIA, 124 million Americans took a vacation in the lastyear, amounting to 55 percent of the adult population. The typical travelertook three trips a year, spending $1,500 per trip, and traveled 1,200 milesfrom home.

After all, reminded Yesawich: Americans consider a vacation to be abirthright.

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