Travel industry

The travel bug is back: How Vacasa is using customer data to provide curated vacation rental experiences

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    Caleb Donegan, Vice President of Digital at Vacasa
  • Sep 13, 2021

As the travel landscape continues to transform in the coming months, those in the industry who adopt a customer-focused digital strategy early and effectively will unlock the full potential of personalization moving forward. Read more from Vacasa's VP of Digital, Caleb Donegan.

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Among many things, 2020 was the year of travel rain checks. That flight you’d booked to Costa Rica? Cancelled. The cross-country road trip you’d planned with friends? Postponed, indefinitely.

As we weathered lockdowns and social isolation to curb the spread COVID-19, vacation plans were some of the first to be adjusted or put on hold. 

Now, a year and a half later, the majority of local restrictions have been lifted, and a new travel preference has emerged: one that veers toward drive-to, more remote vacation destinations. 

But data also show an increasing number of consumers aren’t simply rebooking the trips they had booked last year. They’re opting for bigger rooms, longer stays, and unique locations. 

In other words, they’re making up for lost time. 

With more than 30,000 vacation rental properties across North America, Costa Rica and Belize, Vacasa has seen this firsthand. When guests decide to book a short-term rental, they expect to see options that cater to their specific location, amenity, and budget preferences.

Delivering that level of personalization for 3 million plus guests every year is a considerable challenge—one that we continue to learn from. But if brands are not taking full advantage of customer data and digital touch points, they could be missing an opportunity to differentiate themselves in this pivotal time for the travel industry. 

Below, I’ll share lessons learned from developing Vacasa’s digital strategy and positioning ourselves for success in the current environment and a post-pandemic future. 

Using customer data to offer curated experiences

Decision fatigue happens, even when making exciting decisions such as where and how to spend three weeks of vacation time during the year. 

Our customers value having options when searching for vacation homes, but only if those options are relevant to them. Someone searching for units in Park City, Utah, likely doesn’t care to see what’s available in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, for example. To address this, we curate search results based on what we know about who’s searching—where have they booked before? Do they tend to seek out a beach view or a mountain range?

Customer data is an invaluable resource, and leveraging it to tailor search results or tweak communications with users helps cut through the noise, solidify brand loyalty, and reduce friction throughout the decision-making experience.

In order to do this, we have to lean on automation. 

Combining digital automation with customer data makes it possible to deliver a personalized experience to millions of guests, while handling exponentially more individual transactions every year. By incorporating multichannel capabilities into our platform, we’re able to reach existing users where they are and expand our customer base at a much faster rate than before.

Consumer expectations for personalization are only getting higher, so it pays to experiment early with how you use data to implement digital touchpoints. 

Understanding local markets is a competitive advantage

Just as no two people are the same, every city, town, or destination is different. 

An increasing number of travelers value locally relevant activities and accomodation as part of their overall vacation experience. While companies like Airbnb and Vrbo connect to local communities through the properties they list and the hosts who manage them, Vacasa is different. As a national brand managing properties on behalf of our homeowners, we understand the importance of making that local connection directly. That's why we have expert, local teams in every market we serve, and why we "think local" in our messaging and outreach.

Personalizing the content we create for a specific market is key. Our communication with homeowners is customized to the location of their home, while interactions with guests are tailored to reflect the market they’re visiting—enabling them to plan activities around seasonal weather conditions and local holidays.

Market-specific messaging has been especially crucial during the pandemic. With varying restrictions and health protocols in place across regions, it remains a priority for us to share accurate and relevant information with our customers. 

Personalized and curated communication builds trust, and trusted brands are more likely to survive, especially into a post-COVID-19 travel economy.

The future of travel requires flexibility

In the early days of quarantine, our team focused on serving customers market-specific content—helping them stay informed and prepare for the eventual return of recreational travel. We also used this time to learn from guests’ past bookings and cancellations, leveraging existing data to predict where they might go next. 

When non-essential travel restrictions were lifted, we leveraged customer data to deliver personalized unit recommendations that drove high-value bookings and maximized revenue for homeowners. 

Mass marketing emails are no longer enough; brands must be able to meet each customer where they are, with products and services relevant to what they are experiencing at that moment.

As the travel landscape continues to transform in the coming months, those in the industry who adopt a customer-focused digital strategy early and effectively will unlock the full potential of personalization moving forward.

To learn more about Vacasa’s data-driven personalization strategy, read their full customer story.

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Caleb Donegan, Vice President of Digital at Vacasa

As vice president of digital at Vacasa, Caleb Donegan is responsible for all aspects of e-commerce for Vacasa including marketing, optimization and channel revenue growth. Caleb brings more than a decade of experience to his role and specializes in SEO, SEM and email marketing strategies, as well as analytics, UX, and product, all targeted to improve the experience and performance across e-commerce channels.