The changing nature of leisure time

Society's changing perception about their leisure time is having - and will continue to have - an enormous impact on the location-based entertainment (LBE) industry, and every other industry that succeeds by capturing dollars spent in leisure time. Read on to learn about speed vacations, multitasking leisure venues and more.

It wasn't all that many years ago that we analyzed consumer spending on retail purchases and at entertainment destinations based upon demographics and disposable income. The basic underlying theory was that a person's demographics, combined with their disposable income, could be used to understand and predict their spending. In fact, a lot of consumer analysis is still performed on this basis.

Welcome to a whole new world. Money is no longer the sole currency by which consumers make their spending decisions. Time is the new currency. And for upper-middle and higher- income consumers (whom we will call upscale consumers), disposable time is often the more important deciding factor than money, especially when it comes to away-from-home leisure.

Upscale consumers and families, especially, are time pressed today. They have more things they want to do than they have the time for and suffer from what has been dubbed "time poverty. Often the difference in cost of a few dollars is not important to them, and they are even willing to pay a premium to save time. What is important to them is to use their valuable time well and to save time whenever they can. You might call this the new multitasking paradigm: do as much as you can in the least amount of time.

This multitasking trend is evidenced in recent research by the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) that shows that consumers are becoming more efficient in their shopping, spending more money per visit, but making fewer trips to the mall. In 1996, the average shopper visited a mall 3.2 times per month and spent $66.70 per trip. In 2006, the number of visits dropped by about 10% to 2.9, while spending per trip increased to $99.90. Adjusted for inflation, $66.70 in 1996 would equal $85.70 in 2006, so spending per trip has increased faster than inflation.

The other thing that has changed about time, or more specifically, about leisure time, is that it comes in new size increments. We no longer take those two week, or even one week vacations, or at least, not as often. We take our extended leisure time in smaller increments, but more frequently. It's now a long weekend here or a few days somewhere.

According to the Travel Industry Association, the average length of a vacation has dropped from about five days in the 1980s to 3.5 days today. Suzanne Cook, the Travel Industry Association's research director, said, "It's hard to even imagine how vacations can get much shorter than they are now and still resemble vacations.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that in aggregate, the number of full-time employees who took less than an entire week off has more than doubled since 1990. The percentage of all workers who took a full week off on any given week has declined by about a third since 1990.

According to labor economists, the trend toward shorter and more frequent vacations is more commonly found at white-collar jobs where workers have specific knowledge that cannot be easily duplicated by co-workers filling in. A Family and Work Institute 2004 survey of workers found that 43% of workers felt "overwhelmed by everything they have to do when they return home (PDF of survey). John A. Challenger, chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement consultant, sees it this way, "If you go away for a week or two weeks, that might leave a hole and you might be blamed for something that goes wrong.

In fact, the consecutiveness that the Internet has brought to doing business is also destroying the sanctity of weekends, as you can stay connected 24/7. The division between work, leisure and home life has blurred.

The concept of time poverty, limited disposable free time for leisure, and shorter vacations is reinventing how we use our leisure time and is driving two trends we have identified in the location-based leisure (LBL) industry:

Multitasking leisure venues

We are seeing the growth of eatertainment and other venues that combine dining with entertainment. Consumers are looking for one-stop leisure, a single place they can go for a meal and entertainment, versus going to one location for a meal, then taking time to drive to another for entertainment. And if you are talking about loading up the kids in the car to go from one location to another, you are not only talking about more time, but a lot of effort.

In our last eNewsletter issue, we discussed some of these combination venues that are popping up in increasing numbers throughout America. These include family-buffet-entertainment centers, bowling lounges, pizza and game concepts, uWink and "dinner and a movie and even single venue combinations of cinema, restaurant, bar, games and bowling. These are all fulfilling consumers' needs for efficient use of their leisure time, which explains their growing popularity.

Speed vacation venues

The proliferation of discount airlines is making it a lot easier for people to get away for a few days of vacation on short notice for a speed vacation. But that can still be a lot of expense and effort for families with younger children. So what about just throwing everyone and a few clothes in the car and driving an hour or two (sometimes even less) to a great two- or three-day escape? Enter the indoor waterpark resort (also known as aqua park resorts in much of the world), the ultimate answer to the multitasking family speed vacation where the entire family can participate together as group. By the end of this year there will be 184 indoor waterpark resorts in the U.S., with 49 scheduled to open in 2008 and 166 more in the development pipeline. That's a big jump from the 18 that existed in 2000. Indoor water park resorts are even starting to appear in other parts of the world. We recently found one in the Ukraine city of Kharkiv.

Sun Light Hotel waterpark hotel in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

In fact, it's getting to the point where a hotel that doesn't have an indoor waterpark of some sort is losing out on all that weekend business. Even Marriott hotels is joining in the trend with a joint venture with Nickelodean to develop family-oriented Nickelodeon Resorts by Marriott. The first planned property is a 650-room resort in San Diego, California, that will have a 100,000-square-foot water park. That waterpark is planned to be outdoors, due to the favorable climate in San Diego. But future resorts will have indoor water parks if the weather dictates the need.

The changing perspective in the value we place on our time is having, and will continue to have, a far more profound impact on leisure venues than disposable income. Those businesses that understand how time poverty and the changing nature of leisure time are shaping consumers' leisure choices will be the ones to win success in the future.

We have been writing about the influence of time poverty and the changing nature of how time is experienced for years. You might want to revisit several of our past stories: