Vacation rental companies hope CX gives them an edge as hotels come back


Vacasa’s Bella Vista House on Dauphin Island, AL.

As life begins to return to pre-pandemic normalcy, a new class of rental-focused travel agencies are betting that the CX and digital marketing investments made over the past year will keep them a step ahead as traditional hospitality resumes.

You see, the holidays have changed during the pandemic. Restrictions on air travel and social contact meant that locked-in travelers began to seek alternative destinations, favoring short-term rentals of houses or apartments over larger hotels and resorts.

At the same time, the digital switchover during the pandemic meant travelers wanted more than their own vacation space. They wanted a digital first experience, which covered everything from finding fares to booking online to completely contactless experiences.

A focus on the CX

Many of these changes are here to stay. For example, 74% of Americans say they plan to continue to favor contactless experiences after the end of the pandemic.

“Customer expectations have changed to prefer a new type of accommodation with flexible, multi-length stay options and a ‘home-away-from-home’ experience with high-tech features,” said Will Lucas, CEO from Mint House, a luxury rental service. residential apartments for business travelers.

Mint House, which operates in several US cities, digitally orchestrates a hotel-like experience. This included a contactless tour, keyless entry, the ability to pre-store a refrigerator with groceries, and smart thermostat settings that could be saved to the traveller’s account and repeated on future stays at Mint House. in other cities.

Mint House, whose space in New York City costs around $ 800 a night, has also partnered with fitness company MIRROR to provide fitness equipment for live and on-demand workouts.

To meet expectations, Mint House used the CX Kustomer platform, which bills itself as a customer service CRM, to help anticipate what the new wave of customers were looking for through predictive modeling.

“We want to extend our predictive customer service using our digital concierge, accessible through the Mint House app, and proactively offer services, amenities and travel advice to our customers as needed,” said Lucas.

The functionality of the app is also important to AvantStay, which sells short-term vacation home stays in more than 50 US markets, and there’s more to it. From their app, guests can order concierge, massages and other comforts. The business is growing, and with that the demands of the customers.

Using AI-powered chatbots helps sort through requests that can be automated, putting them aside from issues that need more attention. Meanwhile, CRM personalizes and contextualizes the experience.

“Customers who contact Avantstay to locate the key to their rental property need more immediate attention than a customer who calls about future bookings,” said Gabe Larsen, vice president of growth for Kustomer. “By storing check-in and check-out dates on each customer profile, they were able to leverage AI to provide additional support and information to their CX team and better respond to traveler inquiries.”

Inventory and brand creation

“The demand is clearly through the roof,” said Reuben Doetsch, co-founder of AvantStay. “A lot of people jump out of their seats to travel. They decide if they should drive, take a summer trip, and hit the road. Remote work has become de-stigmatized, increasing demand. “

Pandemic restrictions have prompted travelers to examine the car market in a new way and find hidden gems closer to home. This meant that while many consumers did research related to travel, it was more specific than usual.

Vacasa, a vacation rental brand that manages more than 30,000 units, already had a loyal following before the pandemic, but tapping into the COVID-19 vacation wave presented another kind of problem to be addressed.

“It was less about how to be innovative in our space and more about how we can capture all of this demand,” said Caleb Donegan, vice president of digital at Vacasa. “We had to make sure our inventory was presented to travelers who were booking at rates and looking for rates we had never seen before. It was less about what we could do to try new things, than it was about meeting all that customer demand and exploiting it, getting them to the unit they wanted as quickly as possible.

Normally, people usually know where they want to go on vacation, Donegan said. That changed during the pandemic, when vacationers started looking in their own backyards for new places to ski or go to the beach because they didn’t want to fly or couldn’t.

But to meet this demand, Vacasa must also maintain a constant pool of owners looking to rent their space. To do this, the company focuses on content research and marketing.

“We put a ton of effort into finding second home owners,” Donegan said. “On the homeowner side, there is a lot more education going on, a lot of questions relating to renting a second home, taxes and regulations. We use a lot of content to educate tenants and possibly get them to talk to us. Our approach is how to make them feel comfortable doing it and how we can make sure they understand our value proposition rather than doing it themselves.

Vacasa’s outreach is mostly driven by search and email, and they’ve built proprietary technology on top of these channels to further segment renters and vacationers. Personalized communications motivate customers to book and browser behavior informs the marketing team of what really matters to individuals, which leads to more targeted messages, Donegan said.

“If we are a national company, we are also a local company,” he added. “If you stay in one of our units, you don’t really care that we have places elsewhere. All you care about is that we know the market, and even more from the owner’s side. We have built technology that lets tenants and owners know that we know the market and how to market it in that market.

Invite influencers

“Property management is an old-fashioned industry, but technology allows every step of the process to be relevant to this generation and allows us to create a brand in the space,” Doetsch said.

A premium rental brand is tailor-made for Instagram, he added. The formula is simple: Host influencers at your properties and their followers will start to recognize the brand and seek it out when planning their own trips. It does not matter the extent of the properties. If the experience and the brand are consistent, they will combine to form a luxury chain.

For example, model Helen Owen organized a bachelorette party trip for a friend to The Wesley by AvantStay in Palm Springs, California. Travel-related posts got over half a million impressions. Additionally, Owen had a giveaway in his IG stories that made users swipe and type their email. The promo captured nearly 2,000 emails for AvantStay.

Helen Owen (right) celebrates with a friend at AvantStay’s Wesley Palm Springs.

To celebrate Pride Month, AvantStay welcomed Will and James, the committed winners of the Amazing Race, to Malibu. The brand also launched a new partnership with the Daily Harvest food delivery service, which introduced four new “favor” boxes designed exclusively for AvantStay customers.

Digital nomads

As the airline industry and the traditional hospitality industry rebound, some pandemic-era trends in travel behavior are expected to persist. Marketers who have paid attention will have new tools to reach these travelers.

“Over the past year, we’ve seen a significant increase in the trend of digital nomads,” Lucas said. “And with the return of business travel, the ability to deliver a contactless experience and smart features, such as Mint House smart TVs and pre-stocked refrigerators, as well as partnerships with brands like MIRROR and Minoan , will be important in capturing and holding the attention of tech-savvy travelers.

The question is whether hotels, which have long offered similar luxury features, will get some of these customers back.

“Hotel demand is also coming back now, but we think a lot of people who go to hotels have been exposed to rentals over the past 18 months,” said Reuben. “They realize that they like having a house with a pool and staying somewhere with their friends.”

About the Author

Chris Wood draws on over 15 years of reporting experience as a B2B writer and reporter. At DMN, he was Associate Editor-in-Chief, providing original analysis on the changing technological landscape of marketing. He interviewed tech and policy executives, from Canva CEO Melanie Perkins, to former Cisco CEO John Chambers, and Vivek Kundra, named by Barack Obama as the country’s first federal CIO. He is particularly interested in how new technologies, including voice and blockchain, are disrupting the world of marketing as we know it. In 2019, he moderated a panel on the “theater of innovation” at the Fintech Inn, Vilnius. In addition to his marketing focused reporting in industry trades such as Robotics Trends, Modern Brewery Age and AdNation News, Wood has also written for KIRKUS and contributes fiction, review and poetry to several blogs. of leading books. He studied English at Fairfield University and was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. He lives in New York.


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