Attendees at a Reputation Management Forum held at last spring’s ARDA Convention learned how strategies used by companies burdened by negative crisis situations were able not only to improve but to enhance their reputations. Forum attendees learned how our industry and individual companies can spread positive information about vacation ownership and improve our brand image. A significant part of this process is to encourage people to vacation more frequently.

Gary Oster, EVP of Member Services at U.S. Travel and Managing Director Project: Time Off, shared some fascinating facts about America’s vacationing habits.

The American tradition of the week-long vacation is becoming a thing of the past, as full-week vacations have steadily declined in the past 34 years. Unlike the general perception, workers who don’t use their vacation time are no more likely to receive a raise or bonus than workers who do. By foregoing vacations, we become less productive, less creative and our performance suffers. Taking time off translates to lower stress and better overall health. Men who failed to take vacations for a few years were 30% more likely to experience a heart attack than those who took regular holidays.

Last year, the U.S. Travel Association challenged their 60 employees to use every last second of their paid time off. They wanted them to spend time with family, adventure somewhere new or work on the home improvement project they keep putting off. Employees who succeeded at the challenge received a $500 bonus. The results were beyond expectations. Nearly all the staff qualified for the incentive, reducing vacation time liability by nine percent and saving the association more than $36,000. What’s more, as their liability went down, the staff’s productivity and creativity went up as a result of taking time to recharge.

But America still has a problem. Americans are taking the least amount of vacation in nearly 40 years, becoming a nation of work martyrs. In 2013, Americans left 429 million days unused and forfeited $52.4 billion in time off benefits. If workers took just one more day off each year, we would generate $73 billion annually for the economy.

According to research, senior business leaders and HR professionals overwhelmingly agree that time off boosts employee performance, productivity and creativity while reducing sick time, burnout and turnover. Further, companies that encourage paid time off employ more people who are happier with their professional success compared to those companies that discourage it.

Forum attendee Eva Esteban RRP, VP of Organizational Development for Diamond Resorts, shared that her company is always hungry for new data and believes in utilizing research, incorporating it within internal campaigns to emphasize the importance of vacations.

Also in the audience, Keith Parent, Director of Operations for Daily Management. Inc. said he plans to take a new approach to encourage their employees to take their full vacation time.