I recently had reason to recall our family summer vacations of the 1950s and '60s with my Madelia, Minn., banker Dad driving the Chevy Biscayne with homemaker Mom navigating and my older sister and me in the back seat, getting on each other's nerves.

Having recently returned from a solo car trip to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota — which included a majority of my time in central and northwestern Minnesota — I also began to ponder just how important tourism is to our state.

To better define it, a vacation is a noun described as "a period of suspension of work, study, or other activity, usually used for rest, recreation, or travel; a recess or holiday."

It is estimated that for some 30 million vacationing visitors to Minnesota every year, tourism generates more than $12 billion in gross sales or an average of $33 million a day. Tourism, I learned, annually generates $4.1 billion in Minnesota income tax revenue and nearly 20 percent of the sales taxes collected.

Nearly a quarter-million full- and part-time workers — 11 percent of the state's workforce — are making good things happen for vacationers, as I discovered in cabin country and freshwater lake regions around St. Cloud, Alexandria, Moorhead, Fergus Falls and Becker and many other places.

Untapped vacation days

Minnesota's civilian labor force currently has a near-record low 3 percent unemployment. There's growing concern about the ability to continue to expand the state workforce because of a serious shortage of qualified workers in certain jobs.

About seven in 10 Minnesotans participate in the state's labor force, including 75 percent of parents with small children. Vacations are an especially treasured benefit for these employees and their kids. In fact, vacations rank as the No. 2 benefit contributing to employee satisfaction, just after health care.

In addition to the economics, vacation time has another face, one that should be of interest to all of us, especially business owners and operators. It is called "vacation deprivation."

Two years ago, a national survey found that 41 percent of Americans reported they didn't take a single vacation day in 2015, and 17 percent said they took fewer than five vacation days that year. That's about 658 million vacation days that went unused.

Yet, eight in 10 employers agree that when employees take time off, they return to work with improved focus and creativity.

Millennials are the generation most likely to forfeit time off, even though they earn the fewest number of vacation days. One in four millennials forfeited vacation days compared with just 19 percent of older Generation X workers and 17 percent of baby boomers.

Research has shown that unused vacation days compound stress, taking a toll on the well-being of workers and their families. In addition, skipped vacation time can reduce productivity and innovation at work, and negatively affect our state's vital tourism economy.

Even among employees who do take vacation, a majority report that they do at least some work while on vacation. Nearly half of workers surveyed "have felt shame" for taking their well-deserved vacations and report that they also experience a kind of workplace pressure to "justify taking their vacation days."

Vow to encourage vacations

The always-on nature of today's driven work environment no doubt contributes to America's vacation deficit. Employees who become accustomed to work requests via smartphone in their off hours may find it nearly impossible to turn off and tune out while on vacation.

Let us vow — as workers, spouses, kids and employers — to do what we can to assure that Minnesotans and their families take their deserved annual vacations.

We'd all be better off because of it.

Final note: During my trip, my car averaged just less than 40 mph as I moved through more than 50 small towns, experiencing a pleasant, more relaxed and rural lifestyle along the way.

Chuck Slocum is president of the Williston Group, a Twin Cities based management-consulting firm. He used information from government travel data, Project Time Off, Glassdoor Economic Research and Alamo Rent-A-Car in preparing this essay. Contact him at Chuck@WillistonGroup.com.