The Role of The Worker in Popularizing Travel

In The Travel Habit, Tourism during the Depression by Khirad1 Comment

The development of the travel habit is often credited to the role of consumerism and new markets dedicated to the promotion of travel throughout America. A quote from Don Thomas, one of the leaders of the tourism promotional industry during this time, summarized this when he said that “the travel habit was not born with most Americans. It’s an acquired taste and one which must be religiously and patiently cultivated by the seller” (In Berkowitz 194). As we have discussed, travel became a way to rejuvenate the economy. By taking workers who would otherwise spend their newly acquired vacation time at home, and instead selling to them an idea of leisurely travel throughout the states, a new industry was born that allowed normal people to help the economy. However, as important as consumerism was to this new industry, a force that is often ignored in the popularization of the travel industry and its effect on the economy is the labor worker.

One way that the worker impacted the development of the travel industry throughout the U.S. was through the push for more vacation time as a norm at companies. As Michael Berkowitz’s article “A ‘New Deal’ for Leisure-Making Mass Tourism during the Great Depression” points out, the common practice at most companies was to have very little to no vacation time for most workers, and it was not until the idea that a worker could come back rejuvenated and be more productive for the company was popularized that the companies granted the workers more vacation time. While major companies were involved in this new vacation time, labor unions were an active part of this process as well. Also, the idea that the worker needed to be rejuvenated was key to this idea of travel, because companies feared that if the worker spent all their time relaxing at home that they would not come back as better workers. Thus, the travel industry became the solution to this in that they encouraged these workers to travel the states instead, and sold it as a more leisurely activity than spending all their time at home. So in many ways, the role of the worker was incredibly influential in the creation and popularity of both the travel habit and the travel industry.

The influence of the average worker on the popularity of the travel habit also led to an interesting theme in many of the travel writings about getting to know the average people of a town. In Lorena Hickok’s report “One Third of a Nation,” she describes the importance of identifying the everyday people she meets, and trying to learn their perspectives. In many ways, the very workers who were travelling and fueling this industry were the most interesting parts of the vacation spots they visited. It was the average worker or small business owner that was benefitting from all the new travelers who spent their money in the industry. Their role was often to define the very identity of the town that the travelers were visiting. Thus, the worker created both a social unity and a new economic unity in the travel industry, and they were an important force throughout the popularization of the travel habit.


  1. One would think that companies would promote workers staying at home while on vacation, since the family was viewed as the foundation of society, at least in the Western, bourgeois imaginary. I wonder why staying at home was regarded as a pretext for becoming an unproductive laborer. I also focused on Berkowitz’s article because it really emphasizes how the working class were part of the travel culture/industry, too. It is interesting to think of traveling around the United States as a way of disciplining the body, of training workers to become better at their job. Funny how on the surface the traveling industry seems to be about leisure when in reality it’s about making laborers work harder.

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