With summer approaching, parents with school children all over America will be getting ready for the annual family vacation. Or will they?

“The traditional summer vacation structure is being affected, positively and negatively, as more schools across the nation adopt the year-round school calendar, say Ken McCleary, a professor of hospitality and tourism management in the Pamplin College of Business, and his former graduate student Margaret A. Peercy, who co-authored a case study on the topic. Their study was published in the May 2011 issue of the Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Research.

The increasing popularity of year-round school has been attributed to several factors, including a desire to raise educational standards and the need to ease classroom overcrowding, McCleary and Peercy wrote. “When year-round school is implemented, its impact on leisure travel is felt when it comes to who goes on a family vacation, when and where families take vacations, and the length of the vacation.”

The co-authors, whose study was based on a survey of parents of students at Columbia Academy in Columbia, Tenn., noted that studies have shown that family vacations are typically 6-10 days long. “When a school system adopts year-round school, children do not have 10-13 weeks during the summer from which parents can choose when planning a vacation. Instead, they have three-week breaks that occur every nine weeks.”

Their study found that “85 percent of respondents said they took their major family vacation in the summer before year-round school, whereas only 40 percent said they did so after year-round school.”

Other findings include the following.

  • Some families on a year-round school calendar have shifted their major family vacation travel season from summer to all seasons, but especially the fall. Others, however, continue to travel on their major family vacation during the summer break.
  • More families are taking two or more family vacations per year since year-round school.
  • Some families agree that they take a greater number of shorter vacations since year-round school but continue to travel on at least one major family vacation a year.
  • Families found it easier to decide what time of year to go on a family vacation before year-round school.
  • Families feel that they can get more for their money when they travel since changing to a year-round school calendar because of the time of year that they are traveling.
  • Some families are more likely to allow their child/children to travel with a friend or invite a friend of the family to travel with them since year-round school than before.
  • School extracurricular activities, such as sports, cause problems for families when planning for vacations.

The co-authors wrote that in 1986-1987, only 408 public schools in the U.S. were on a year-round system. Two decades later, year-round systems were in place in all but four states, in more than 3,000 public schools, with an estimated enrollment of 2.3 million students, according to a 2006 estimate by the National Association of Year-Round Education.

While noting that the lack of a standard school calendar — even within the same state — poses a major challenge to the leisure travel industry in responding to the changes, McCleary and Peercy said the industry “cannot afford to ignore the fact that year-round school families are taking a greater number of shorter vacations during school breaks, especially during fall and spring.” Developing and marketing 2-3-day vacation packages, for example, might be one way the industry can benefit.

The definition of a family may continue to change over time, they said, but “some form of a family will continue to travel and vacation together.” The family’s travel needs and desires will continue to change as the family ages. “Remaining ahead of the curve is one of the ways that businesses in the leisure travel industry will remain ahead of their competitors.”



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