Wendy Kallergis remembers her early days in the hospitality business with some exhaustion.
“My job is a Monday-through-Friday job,” said Kallergis, president and CEO of the Greater Miami & The Beaches Hotel Association. “But when I was working at hotels — and in catering, particularly — we would boast about how many days straight we worked.”
That kind of work ethic (some would say over-zealousness) is getting a critical look these days as American workers leave more vacation time unused.
According to Project: Time Off, a U.S. Travel Association initiative, American workers lost 169 million vacation days in 2013.
When Kallergis heard a speech on the topic in June, she got to thinking that her own industry was probably a major offender because of the nonstop nature of hotels and restaurants. And then she decided, at least locally, to try to encourage more hospitality workers to use their time off.
In partnership with the South Florida Hospitality Human Resources Association, Kallergis’ group launched a summer wellness program for industry employees earlier this month.
Nearly 20 hotels signed on to offer special rates for industry workers who might want to take a local getaway through Sept. 30.
“We have the venues, we have the opportunity to do something here to make it more interesting and approachable to our employees in the industry to take advantage of it,” said Jeishy Zerpa, president of the human resources association and director of HR for the JW Marriott Marquis and Hotel Beaux Arts.
Deals include 35 percent off at the Sonesta Coconut Grove, rooms for $119 at Circa 39 in Miami Beach, and $149-a-night rooms at the Biltmore in Coral Gables.
“We think it’s going to kind of remind our industry that we need to take time off — and now’s the time,” Kallergis said.
Charlotte Prescott, director of spa and fitness at the Biltmore, said this is the prime season for local hotel workers to take a break.
“Definitely there are certain times of year that in South Florida in hospitality we’re running on all cylinders and the workload is very intense,” Prescott said. “There are a few months of the year — only a few — where those business levels drop down a little bit.”
Bosses recognize that taking time off can be difficult for many reasons.
“Sometimes it’s hard for people to take days off because of budget restrictions or coordinating with family members or maybe because of the seasonality of our business,” said Florencia Tabeni, general manager of the JW Marriott Marquis and Hotel Beaux Arts. “I’ve found that this is a great opportunity to give people the option to stay in Miami, but relax and enjoy and recharge at least for a couple of days.”
Chance Ates, chairman of the School of Hospitality at Johnson & Wales University in North Miami, said his department was cheered when they saw news of the summer program. He said workers too often avoid vacation because they’re worried about the pile of work that will be waiting when they return — or because they think no one else can do their job as well.
“I think we need to do a little more, maybe [offer] incentives to push people into using it,” he said. “I want to see how many people are going to use it.”
Ates and others warned that even time off can be less effective if employees stay attached to their phone and email the whole time — a threat Kallergis knows too well.
During a recent interview with the Miami Herald, she confessed that she wasn’t actually working that day.
“Here I am today on my day off and I’m feeling so guilty,” she said. “I’ve been working all day on my email.”