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Science Proves The Value Of Holidays

Media release

8 December 2006

Science Proves The Value Of Holidays

Air New Zealand teams up with former NASA scientists to tap into the psyche of next generation American travellers

Air New Zealand is using pioneering technology to reach a new generation of stressed-out Americans, positioning a New Zealand holiday as better value than a session with their therapist.

A ground-breaking study by former NASA scientists, which measured the psychological and physiological effects of taking a holiday in New Zealand, has revealed new insights into what will attract well-heeled Americans to take a break down-under.

“We believe we’ve found a rich seam of potential customers looking to escape the rat race,” says Air New Zealand Group General Manager International Airline Ed Sims.

“Americans spend an estimated US$8.5 billion annually on self-improvement and anti-stress treatments including personal coaching, weight loss and stress management – and that’s a market expected to grow to more than US$11 billion by 2008. Our pioneering study suggests that money spent on this compulsive search for well-being could be better invested in holiday time in New Zealand.”

Sims says Americans are similar to New Zealanders in that they are their own worst enemies when it comes to taking leave.

“More than 43 percent of Americans will have worked through this year without taking any holidays because the country’s work ethic demands productivity to the point that it’s actually undermining itself,” he says.

“It’s no coincidence that the Amazon bestseller list currently includes titles like You: On A Diet: The Owner’s Manual for Waist Management and You: The Owners Manual: An Insider’s Guide to the Body that Will Make you Healthier and Younger.

“Air New Zealand’s study definitively proves Americans are more productive if they take their holidays, and a holiday in New Zealand can deliver long-lasting benefits to their health and vitality.”

The study, entitled the Vacation Gap, was conducted by former NASA scientists at Alertness Solutions, who employed equipment and techniques previously only ever used toanalysethe effect of travel on astronauts and pilots.

Targeting the next generation of potential long-haul travellers, it explored the gap that exists between perceptions of the effects of a holiday versus its actual physiological and psychological effects.

“What the Vacation Gap study revealed are new opportunities for New Zealand to market itself to Americans looking to escape their hectic lives – to go somewhere they can genuinely relax and recharge, while engaging with people who are authentic and welcoming,’ says Sims.

He said Air New Zealand was building on what it has discovered by creating a vibrant online community through its new website

“We’re promoting the research findings in the US and publicity is driving people to the site where they can discover more about therapeutic holiday ideas in New Zealand. They can even fill out their own prescription for Kiwi holidays to send to their doctor or even their boss!”

Sims says that with approximately 9 percent of visitors to New Zealand coming from the US, the findings point to tremendous opportunity for those with a stake in our tourism industry.

“We can’t afford to sit back and wait for the next The Lord of the Rings to transport Americans by screen to New Zealand. We need to grasp the initiative and use research like this to develop products that draw in US holiday makers wanting to physically experience a restful, magical holiday that will provide an escape from day-to-day stress.”

Details of the Vacation Gap study

The Vacation Gap project was divided into two phases – an online survey and a field study.

The survey in early 2006 analysed data from a custom survey distributed to travellers from around the US, with Air New Zealand using findings from more than 1200 respondents to provide preliminary insight into the mindset of holidaymakers.

In April and May of 2006, Air New Zealand and Alertness Solutions made real the first scientific in-flight passenger study. Using methodology developed and honed at NASA, the team wired 10 passengers travelling from LA to Auckland with technology designed to continually measure brain, eye, muscle and heart rate activity. A variety ofspecialisedequipment and techniques were used.*

Among the findings is a dramatic 82 percent spike in performance among holiday makers, showcasing the highest increase ever documented through objective testing.

Of particular relevance to corporate America is that the participants continued to operate at an increased performance of nearly 25 percent even after returning from their New Zealand holiday.

“The 82 percent performance increase is unprecedented,” said Dr. Mark Rosekind, President of Alertness Solutions. “The only study that has ever come close to producing results this compelling was a study testing the performance of airline pilots after taking a 20-minute nap. Those results only illustrated a 34 percent increase of performance, which demonstrates the tremendous impact of the holiday mind-set.”

The Impact of Holidays on Health

The physiological benefits of a holiday extend well after passengers arrive back home. The participants continued to get more sleep after they returned from holiday with an average of nearly 20 more minutes each night.

In addition, following their return from holiday, the participants enjoyed three times more deep sleep, the sleep level during which the body and cells physically regenerate and restore themselves. Post-holiday deep sleep accounted for almost 20 percent of travellers’ total sleep time – whereas the average pre-holiday deep sleep only accounted for six percent.

“Of perhaps greater importance than performance increase, however, is the conclusive data demonstrating that holidays result in improved health, sleep and healing,” said Dr. Rosekind.

In addition, the data collected from the Ambulatory Physical Monitor (APM) demonstrates that going on holiday actually lowers travellers’ heart rates by more than four percent, proving the positive physiological effects of holidaying.

“After holidaying with us, travellers returned feeling better and working better,” says Air New Zealand’s Ed Sims, “and we have the numbers to prove it.”

More information on the Vacation Gap study and survey results is available at


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