How tech can elevate your vacation rental business
- Apr 10, 2018 | Heather Bayer
Back in the good old days of renting out a vacation home, when a sign on the lawn and a classified ad was all you needed to score a fully occupied season, there was nothing technical about it.
All you needed was a calendar, a spreadsheet, a fax machine, a telephone (yes, we spoke to people then), and some time to chat to prospective guests. When they arrived, the key might have been under the mat, and from there on, guests fended for themselves. At the end of the stay, they fired up the Hoover, mopped the floors, cleaned the bathrooms, and departed, leaving a nice clean place for the next guests.
Thankfully, in most respects, those days are long gone and in their place are systems and processes to ensure a great vacation for guests without them having to lift a finger. From reservation software to digital guest books, cleaning and hospitality apps to methods of remitting lodging tax, there’s not much in our vacation rental business that hasn’t been subject to technical advances.
From manual systems to automated booking
Paper administration is still fine for many owners of individual properties, but even for those owners, once multiple listing sites come into play, the risk of double booking and general confusion rises significantly. If you don’t have the ability to update calendars across several sites as soon as a reservation is confirmed, there’s the chance another guest will book the same dates on another platform. You’re then left with the difficult task of telling a group their chosen property is not actually available. And … you’ll be penalized by the listing site for the cancellation.
Property management systems (PMS) come in many varieties with software providers such as LiveRez, Streamline, and CiiRUS leading the way. These are great for larger property managers seeking a wide range of features and functionality, however there are plenty of PMS catering to smaller companies and independent owners.
Many of these have been developed by owners and managers who have seen the need for affordable, yet fully featured options. There are options that will give you a full website, or simply add a booking engine to an existing site. Examples of these are MyVR, ivacationonline, and OwnerRez.
Choosing a PMS should take a while and not be an instant decision based on claims of “doing everything” on their websites. Use a comparison tool such as Capterra to look at reviews and compare features and pricing.
From paper welcome books to digital guest books
We can all recall the dog-eared, coffee-stained welcome book that was full of great information but needed continual updating and cleaning up. The most common complaint from owners was that guests rarely read all their carefully compiled instructions and guides, and resorted instead to calling them when they needed to change the TV channels, or operate the Instant Pot.
Thick binders full of instructions on how to use the microwave and rules on economical operation of the AC and heating systems are very much a thing of the past. New technology allows for pre-arrival information such as directions and access details to be delivered to guests digitally via resources such as Hostfully and Hello Here, while pre-loaded tablets like YourWelcome provide guests with information on the home on demand. Video guides on amenity use and the operation of more complicated appliances can usually be added to the digital resources through a dashboard allowing changes to be made on multiple devices simultaneously, which is great for property managers.
From handwritten instructions to cleaning apps and complete hospitality management
We used to leave written notes for our cleaners and hope they remembered everything before the next guests arrived. It was somewhat of a hit-or-miss process, particularly if there was a change to a new cleaning team that hadn’t been to the property before.
The most popular hospitality app, Properly, has revolutionized the experience of working with cleaners with a simple-to-use system that shares all of an owner’s requirements with the cleaners assigned to the property. By using a room-by-room image-based checklist on a phone or tablet, property owners and managers can design the flow of work involved in a changeover.
Each room is photographed and different tasks can be annotated such as specific ways the beds should be made up and presented or where a gift basket should be displayed. Dynamic checklists allow monitoring of changeover progress and reporting of any damage issues with photographic evidence.
Specialized hospitality services are available in most large cities and offer everything from complete packages such as those provided by Air Concierge, to unique hosting tools such as NoiseAware (notifies hosts when noise in a property exceeds a set decibel level), Party Squasher (identifies how many devices are in a single location), and Keycafe (a key exchange service).
There really is an app for anything!
From do-it-yourself to done-for-you
In days gone by there was little choice but to get it done yourself. Whether it was marketing and administration or handling all the paperwork, collecting rental fees or paying out for services, it was all part of the business.
It’s much easier today. A property manager can take care of all the tasks, or there are services available to take over certain parts of the business you just don’t want to do.
Let’s take remitting lodging taxes for example. There was a time you’d have to collect the fees to pay to the HOA, the municipality, the county, and even state taxes, then calculate which went to each authority on the right dates to avoid penalties. Of course, each one has different paperwork to complete and submit.
Technology has a solution for that too. Avalara MyLodgeTax can handle the remittance of all those taxes. Just imagine the amount of time saved from that service alone.
A word of caution
At times all this technology can seem daunting. New resources and apps are launched every day and start-ups in the vacation rental industry show no sign of slowing down. However, not all survive in this fast-moving industry, so unless you thrive on being an early adopter, it’s best to settle on those that have been around for at least a year and show some signs of sustainability. Look at their reviews, talk to users, and satisfy yourself that they’re in it for the long haul.
For more insight from Heather Bayer, visit Cottage Blogger or attend her annual Vacation Rental Success Summit.