In 1966 Eddie Corcoran sang, “There ain’t no cure for the summertime blues,” which is a rather dark pronouncement of an otherwise pretty cheerful time of year. Long days, pool parties and outdoor BBQs seem to us to be more than adequate cures for whatever ails anyone in the summer, even for Mr. Corcoran, who (according to the lyrics of the song) had a pretty terrible but unspecified summer job.
Then again, when “Summertime Blues” was first written, residential air conditioning was still four to five years from really catching on en masse and only 10 percent of U.S. homes were mechanically cooled that summer.
Fast-forward 51 years. Today 90 percent of homes have air conditioning in some form, and consumers can instruct their AI-powered voice-activated assistant to adjust their thermostat (up or down) at will. Those assistants can also be called upon to tell those consumers a joke if the summertime blues are really, really getting them down.
Summer in 2017 is quite a different place these days, even if it bears some uncanny resemblance to the summer of 51 years ago. BBQs and pool parties remain family favorites, and teenagers still have summer jobs that they don’t like very much.
And families still take summer vacations, even if the time spent on those vacations has gotten shorter. (Maybe there’s something to the summertime blues after all.)
By The Numbers
In 2017, Americans take fewer vacation days than previous generations did. Twenty or so years ago, the average number of vacation days taken per year for the average worker was 20. Two years ago, according to a recent report from Project Time Off, that number had fallen to 15.
And while one might think all those workers contributing an extra five days of labor a year would be good news for economic productivity, it actually put a dent in consumer spending.
"Unused vacation days cost the U.S. economy $236 billion in 2016, due to lost spending. That spending would have supported 1.8 million American jobs and generated $70 billion in additional income for American workers,” the report noted.
The good news, according to the same report, is that Americans are starting to take more time off, and this year, American workers are expected to take 16.8 days of vacation, up from 16.2 last year. Those 1.2 days last year delivered a $37 billion impact to the U.S. economy and produced an estimated 278,000 direct and indirect jobs and $11 billion in additional income for employees.
But the somewhat disappointing other side of that vacation coin is that family vacation budgets, worldwide, will be down even though the number of Americans planning to take a family vacation this summer is up over last year.
“The shorter travel durations are explained by sizeable decreases in travelers’ budgets this year,” said Chris Carnicelli, CEO, Generali Global Assistance North America, in a written release. “U.S. travelers are dropping their budgets by 20 percent to an average to $2,679…. This is significant because budget once again ranked as the number one factor for travelers when deciding on a summer vacation location.”
Carnicelli also noted that consumers book travel and comparison shop using digital and mobile channels to a much greater extent than ever before — and that conventional wisdom around travel bookings has changed. Consumers who once booked flight and hotel stays far in advance arenow using tracking tools to find the mathematically lowest amount to pay and often hold out for last-minute savings and deals by being willing to travel to a variety of different locations based on price.
“Consumers can and frequently do make use of various digital hubs to wait for the perfect price destination alignment — which has very much shifted how consumer travel budgets are created.”
And consumers aren’t just changing how they spend on travel — they are changing how they think about summer vacations entirely.
The Mindful Traveler
For those not up on their UN declarations, the global body has actually declared 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. The goal is promoting positive change in travel with regard to social inclusion, environmental protection and economic equality.
A noble goal — though one not for the traveler averse to doing a lot of planning for their summer vacation.
“The problem with doing responsible travel trips is that it does take a little bit of work,” said Martha Honey, executive director of the Center for Responsible Travel (Crest), a nonprofit in Washington. “There’s not one definitive, dependable website where everything is covered. It takes a little investigation, but that can help enrich a trip because you’re learning about the destination as you’re investigating.”
But as with most things in the digital age — where this is a consumer need — there is an entrepreneur with an app, and in the case of sustainable travel, that app is Adventure Junky.
Geared toward millennials, the app's goal is “to fuel the ‘experience economy’ and a new breed of aspirant adventurers and travelers who no longer define themselves solely by the brands they buy, but instead by the experiences they keep.”
The app attempts to gamify sustainable travel practices by awarding points for low-impact experiences and showcasing destinations and travel operators that offer them. They also have a shop, just in case their brand-unconcerned free-spirited traveler customers want to buy some branded Adventure Junky merchandise.
And green/sustainable/socially conscious/travel is growing into an increasingly valuable market to pursue. Around 58 percent of global travelers report preferring to stay in environmentally conscious hotels, and separate research found that 60 percent of U.S. travelers have taken what they define as “sustainable” trip in the past three years.
Moreover, travelers who self-identify as environmentally and socially conscious tend to be better spenders than average, dropping $600 per trip and staying three days longer than the average guest.
Brian Mullis, founder of the nonprofit organization Sustainable Travel International, calls the burgeoning green-travel market “too big to ignore.”
The Cure Of The Summertime Blues: Not Having A Job
The cause of the original summertime blues was a job that was something of a bummer. These days that song likely would not have been written, because teenagers having summer jobs is no longer what most teenagers do.
"Even though some teens still have summer jobs, the proportion of teens who participate in the labor force during the summer has dropped dramatically," the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) said in a report published earlier this year.
"The summer break typically includes July. In July 2016, the teen labor force participation rate was 43.2 percent, down almost 30 percentage points from the high point of 71.8 percent in July 1978."
Staying home watching video games? Not quite.
Some teens have cash jobs paid under the table that the BLS can’t track — summer babysitting jobs, for example.
Other teens are working, but they aren't getting paid. About 56 percent of teens said they prefer an unpaid internship instead of a paid job because it looks better on a college application. And concerns for college also keeps a significant amount of the teen workforce busy during the summer taking additional classes as opposed to getting a summer job. Teens are four times more likely to be enrolled in summer school this year than they were in 1985.
So what will we do on our summer vacation? Most of us will go on a vacation — and a little over half of those vacationers will work hard not to destroy the planet while they travel. Teenagers are underemployed — but apparently building very impressive resumes at the age of 15.
And, of course, it always bears remembering that while it is easy to take for granted a world in which there is an app for everything — even optimally green travel — from the point of view of 1966 when “Summertime Blues” was on the airwaves, we more or less live in the Jetsons’ style future, minus the flying cars.
And given how fast self-driving cars are getting their acts together, we wouldn’t count them out.