How to Beat Vacation Deflation

Americans work too much, and that's bad news for the hotel industry. A mounting body of research shows what we've known all along: Compared to their counterparts around the world, American workers take fewer and shorter vacations and tend to stay plugged into the workplace even while they're supposedly getting away from the rat race.

In July, my wife and I rented a beach house in North Carolina with three other families. The trip was conceived as seven days of sun, sand, food and drink. While we did all that and more, at least four of the adults in the group weren't able to leave their jobs — and the stresses that go with them — at home. Three of us were constantly hunched over BlackBerrries checking and returning messages. I was in a mild funk all week because the WiFi access in the house was spotty. My engineer friend Don had to cut short a walk on the beach one evening to call his office in China. And Mary, a marketing executive with a paint company, sat on the beach one morning, simultaneously sipping a beer, watching her children romp in the surf and participating in a conference call. The trip was a classic case of vacation deflation: we were away from home but not away from our lives.

As a corollary to this trend, some vacationers also seem tired of the same old destinations and are looking for new, more exciting experiences. Leisure business has softened somewhat this year at some perennially popular resort areas like Hawaii, Orlando and the Caribbean, perhaps partly due to the been-there, done-that, wasn't happy mentality of many seasoned travelers.

Again, another personal example: Earlier this year, my wife and I were planning a June vacation with another couple. Determined to go somewhere new and exotic, we ultimately chose Nicaragua, an up-and-coming destination that's often called the new Costa Rica but not yet on the radar of many travelers. The experience was great in all aspects, including the fact that we weren't easily able to keep in touch with our offices and work life.

What can hotels and resorts do to make sure they don't lose business as vacationers make plans for either long-form vacations or the increasingly popular two- or three-day getaways? The answer is a combination of marketing, service and amenities. Be sure your marketing message stresses both the elements of relaxation and excitement your hotel offers. Images of a spa and a rock climbing wall in the same ad aren't incompatible. Resort guests, particularly the type As, work hard so they want to play hard. They also understand the importance of pampering.

Top-notch service is another form of pampering that stressed guests want. When a guest only has three days to de-compress in your hotel, any kind of service lapse or gaffe won't be tolerated. And, of course, amenities are key, especially as traveler expectations continue to rise. It's not just that flat screen TVs are musts, but the channel and entertainment offerings must match or exceed what people have at home. High-speed Internet access, preferably wireless, is a no-brainer.

And while the idea is for people to relax on vacation, most of them, me and my friends included, want all the technology we need to keep our hands on our professional lives.

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