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Help the economy: Use your vacation

The state's top tourism official laid out a road map Monday on how to multiply his industry's impact on Oregon and the Rogue Valley. One of the keys: Get people to use all their vacation.

Travel Oregon CEO Todd Davidson told the Chamber Forum audience at the Rogue Valley Country Club his industry can be a "game-changer" for the region, especially if people take advantage of their vacation time.

He suggested American workers in a 24/7 work culture undermine their health and productivity as well as the economy.

"If only we took more time off we'd feel healthier, renewed, re-energized, closer to our family and friends, and more stimulated and productive at work."

He said 42 percent of workers didn't use all their earned leave in 2013. New research estimates workers left 429 million days of earned leave on the table, an average of 3.2 days per worker.

"It's having a very disturbing effect on us individually and on our economy," Davidson said. "When we decide to just power through and forgo time away from the office, we actually are diminishing our ability to do great work. Refusing to take time away actually hampers our productivity, drags down employee morale, reduces worker retention and undermines health and wellness."

In failing to take time off that would reinvigorate them, workers rob themselves and the broader economy, he said.

"The growing stockpile of unused vacation is not only creating a spike in worker burnout, it's also impacting our national bottom line," he said.

Estimates show the so-called "day-off deficit" costs the American economy $160 billion annually, 1.2 million lost jobs, and $21 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue.

"The truth is, encouraging workers to take off just one additional day of earned leave could bring $73 billion annually into our national economy," Davidson said.

Statistically, half of the managers surveyed said they believe taking time off had a positive impact on productivity and 61 percent of employees thought it benefited their mental health. He noted couples traveling together are more likely to stay together and men who don't take an annual vacation have a 30 percent greater risk of dying from heart disease.

"The research is clear," he said "When we use our earned leave we benefit from higher productivity, a more positive attitude and greater dedication to work."

Unlike many businesses that open with great fanfare, the travel industry quietly adds jobs, he said.

"When the travel and tourism industry adds 2,300 jobs, like it did in 2013, we have no place to cut the ribbon," Davidson said.

He said 44,000 additional jobs were created as a result of tourism in construction, manufacturing and agriculture sectors. Travel and tourism now make up 8 percent of total exports in the country and contributed to 26 percent of the growth in exports in 2013.

He said visitors gain an affinity for products in the region.

"Someone living in Manhattan, Miami or Tokyo is now looking for Oregon wine when they get back home," he said. "Our research indicated roughly 2 percent of our visitors are considering relocating or expanding their business here. That may not sound like a large number, but that's 2 percent of 25 to 30 million overnight trips taken to Oregon every year. We're talking about hundreds of thousands of prospects."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, friend him on Facebook and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.