Have you decided to try software for managing your vacation rentals or want to evaluate alternatives to your current solution? This guide will give you a good overview of what’s available and what to take into account when choosing a platform.
Types of software
There is a lot of software out there, and they all aim at the same thing: increasing your income while saving you time. Before we present the value propositions for each, let’s give a brief overview of the main categories.
Property Management Systems (PMS)
These are softwares often designed to decrease the amount of manual work related to guests, cleaning, maintenance, taxes or reporting. They have been around for decades, and most of the older and more complex solutions were originally designed for hotels.
They all rely on one important piece of information: the reservation details of your guests. This is the most important part when improving your efficiency. Your software needs to know who is coming, when, how many guests, how much they’re paying and whether they have special needs or want to buy additional services.
If you are looking for a PMS solution, please evaluate your needs based on how your staff works, how you wish to communicate with the staff and guests, how large your team is and how large your property portfolio is now and in the future. It’s common for people to manage up to 10 rentals manually, but in order to ensure everything is ready for each guest an automatic system with task delegation and checklists will help you grow your portfolio past 10.
A key aspect here is the source of your reservations. If you get all of your bookings by phone or direct email, most solutions will work for you as you still have to enter the data manually into the system. However, if you receive bookings from established sales channels including Airbnb, Expedia, Booking.com, Homeaway or VRBO, it’s important to ensure the information is automatically gathered and shared. This brings us to the next group of software.
A channel manager allows to you manage all your sales channels in one place. Many of the PMS’s connect to an external channel manager that you pay for separately. Some channel managers work as stand-alone solutions while others have added PMS functionality.
A channel manager can ensure you have the correct availability and rates on all channels, depending on their connections to the channels. The best ones have 2-way API or XML connection to the sales channels, which enables you to receive all information about the reservations and your guests in one place. An alternative option is channel managers that rely on so called calendar imports or iCal. iCal has several disadvantages to a proper connection:
- iCal only can set availability, not rates or minimum stay
- iCal reservation details are often incomplete. You may get the name of the guest, but have to add the number of guests and the price manually
- iCal connections are pulled, not pushed, so you are not in control of changes
When choosing a channel manager, think about your current and future needs. Which channels do you actively receive reservations from? Which channels do you want to start using?
Some channel managers allow you to upload all your content, including terms, pictures and descriptions, to various sales channels. This is a substantial advantage if you want to start using new channels, but offer little value if you already are active on all the common sales channels.
What to ask a vacation rental software supplier
Here are a few of the questions you should ask any technology provider in this industry. Most of the companies do not give this information away on their website, which makes comparing options difficult for potential clients.
Does your platform automatically import property data and reservations or do I need to enter them manually?
Some systems take less than a minute to set up while others can take weeks before you get to fully use the system. Be sure to know how much time is needed before trying.
Do you have a demo account?
Any software that is customized and takes time to set up should have a demo account available. Sometimes you have to schedule a call to get access to it, but it’s always better to explore yourself.
Are you a Channel Manager, PMS or both?
Some PMS’s do not have their own channel manager, while some channel manager do not have their own PMS. If you want to use both, you may end up using two separate companies and paying two different bills. Having an integrated solution makes it much more reliable, as all issues can be solved by dealing with just one company.
Do you have API connections to my channels?
Look at where you get most of your reservations from. Ask the PMS and Channel Manager if they have direct connections to these channels. If they give a vague answer, ask about iCal or calendar exports. If they rely on iCal, updates are often slower and the information is limited.
How does the pricing work?
Many companies in this industry do not show their pricing on the website. Others have complex calculators and some use a fixed fee or a commission-based pricing. Be sure to check for additional costs per booked night or commissions on reservations – they quickly add up and what looks like a cheap solution may end up costing a lot more than the competition. If they charge a commission, remember to ask which reservations you pay a commission on. Some providers charge commissions on reservations that are made before even connecting the software!
How good is the customer service?
Because of the complexity of the different OTA’s and sales channels, there are countless exceptions and eventually you will need to get answers to your questions. Make sure to call the phone number listed, check if they have a proper web chat that can answer your questions and send a support ticket. When your guest is waiting, you should not wait days for an answer.
How do you handle payments?
Many sales channels allow the user to charge the guest directly. This is often done by credit card, so make sure your solution is integrated with a credit card processing service such as Stripe.
How often do you synchronize the calendar data?
Some providers update calendars every few minutes, while others update them once a week! That makes a big difference when it comes to adjusting rates or avoiding double-bookings.
How can you manage my own website?
Some PMS’s and Channel Managers integrate with website-building software or provide this service as a part of the package. If you have your own website, make sure your software is able to update the rates and calendar, manage direct bookings and payments before you make a decision.
There are also a few questions you should ask yourself when evaluating features and pricing of different providers.
– Where are my reservations coming from? Which channels are important?
– How much time am I willing to spend on manually entering information?
– How many nights am I booked and what are the average rates?
– What are my plans for expansion? Am I going to add 100 properties to my portfolio in the near future or do I keep my current ones only?
– How can I handle double-bookings? If you run a bed-and-breakfast with 8 rooms, it’s usually not a problem if two guests book the same room. If you manage individual villas or apartments, the guests expect to get what they paid for. If you want to avoid double-bookings at all cost, be sure to use a stable solution with direct API integrations that updates with frequent intervals.
Which vacation rental needs can software solve?
Here are a few reasons why property managers and home sharers alike look for software and a suggestion for where to look for each situation.
I want to get more bookings
If you’re only selling on a small amount of channels, such as phone or Airbnb, the best method is to get out on more sales channels. A channel manager can help you with this. Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula, as sales channels work in different ways depending on the target segment and location. For this, find a channel manager solution that quickly gets you up and running on various channels, gather reviews and see which ones work best of you.
I want to manage my sales channels
If you already have a selection of working sales channels, and just want a place to manage them, a channel manager is the best option. Be sure to ask the right questions and pay attention during the initial setup.
I want to manage my cleaning and maintenance
This is a task that PMS’s make very easy. If you only receive manual bookings by phone and email, most hotel-management solution can do this. If you rely on Airbnb, HomeAway and Booking.com for finding guests, make sure the PMS is directly integrated into these channels to avoid manual work.
I want to get an overview of my business and report to clients
This is a part of a PMS. The reports they generate are only as good as the data, so make sure you get the correct information from your sales channels to avoid having to copy-paste information.
We hope this guide will help you understand how to evaluate the best software for you. Hostaway has a simple pricing, offers direct API connections to all the major sales channels, allows you to manage guests and cleaning and offers quick and reliable synchronization. We also have a mobile app, offer website integrations and are expanding our PMS capabilities. Reach out if you have any questions or start your free trial today!