What is a channel manager? Your guide to vacation rental channel management

Channel managers are an essential pillar of every short-term rental property manager’s tech stack. They can help you save time, reduce manual mistakes and increase your occupancy and bookings. Let’s explore what a channel manager is, how it works and what it can do for your business!

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What is a channel manager?

A vacation rental channel manager is a piece of specialised software that allows you to automatically distribute property listings across multiple booking channels.

It lets you update your rates, availability, calendars and listings across all the channels you advertise on in real-time, using API connections.

NameCountryChannels integratedCategoryPricing ModelPreferred Software Partner of
Rentals UnitedSweden, Spain, Poland, USA60Vacation rental channel managerNo setup fee! Monthly subscriptionAirbnb, Booking.com, Vrbo/HomeAway, Tripadvisor
BookingPalUSA, Ukraine40Vacation rental channel managerCommissionBooking.com, Tripadvisor
NextPaxNetherlands, USA150Vacation rental channel managerCommissionBooking.com, Vrbo/HomeAway, Tripadvisor
SiteminderAustralia, USA, UK, Thailand, India, South Africa400Hotel channel managerMonthly subscription-

This means that when a guest books your rental on one of your connected channels or your own website, the dates get blocked on all the other online booking sites you advertise on.

Why do you need a channel manager?

Every property manager with more than a handful of vacation rentals needs to use a channel manager to avoid double bookings and keep their listings up-to-date.

Most property management systems (PMS) have channel management functionalities. However, these are often built on laggy iCal connections, which can leave you vulnerable to double bookings.

On the other hand, specialised channel managers – like the ones listed in the table above – focus exclusively on channel management. Their expertise and focus allows them to build the most reliable API connections and ensure two-way synchronisation. 

That’s why, according to the Global Short-Term Rental Tech Report, 57% of property managers use an external Channel Manager that integrates with their PMS to manage the distribution of their listings.

Channel managers were first developed by the hotel industry to automate the distribution of hotel rooms to booking sites. However, hotel channel managers don't work for vacation rentals. Despite both operating within the hospitality industry, they are two fundamentally different businesses. 

Short-term rental managers have different distribution needs than hoteliers, and they work with different consumer-facing websites – many of which focus exclusively on short-term rentals, like Airbnb. That's why the vacation rental industry needs its own, specialised channel management solution.

What is a channel manager?

A partnership with Rentals United gives your business a fantastic opportunity to go to the next level by integrating to our vast network. With over 150,000 properties distributed through Rentals United today, our customer base covers 6 continents and includes Enterprise Property Managers, Real Estate Companies, B&Bs, and large “Hotel 2.0” Rental companies.

How do channel managers work?

Channel managers use API connections to integrate directly with listing sites. API stands for Application Programming Interface and refers to a programming interface that allows services to communicate with each other.

How do channel managers work?

Thanks to API connections, channel managers are able to connect with distribution channels through official, verified connections. These connections allow for two-way synchronisation, which is essential for avoiding double bookings.

All channel managers connect to the most popular online travel agencies (OTAs). Beyond that, each provider has a different selection of booking sites they connect to. Some channel managers offer a large variety of listing sites to choose from, others focus on a handful of connections.

API connections must be frequently updated so that property managers can take advantage of the latest tools and services introduced by OTAs. When buying a channel manager, make sure that the provider has implemented the latest API updates for each channel they work with.

The benefits of using a channel manager: what can it do for your business?

We hope that answers your question “What is a channel manager?”. Now, let’s take a look at some benefits of using a channel manager for your property management business.

1. Save time

One of the biggest benefits of using a channel manager is that it can save you a lot of time. In fact, Rentals United users have managed to save 5-50 hours a week!

By automating your channel distribution, you eliminate repetitive tasks that you’d otherwise have to do manually. For example, updating your calendars, pricing and property descriptions one-by-one on each platform you advertise on.

This leaves you enough time to focus on other aspects of your property management business - like growing your inventory or expanding to new markets.

2. Prevent overbookings

Double bookings can be a nightmare – if you’ve ever had to cancel a guest booking, you’ll know that. But if you use channel management software, you’ll never have to worry about getting overbooked again.

Stable, two-way synchronisation is the key. With a channel manager, your availability gets instantly updated across all your sales channels every time you receive a reservation. This drastically diminishes your risk of overbookings.

3. Increase your bookings, occupancy and revenue

Another advantage of channel managers is that they allow you to diversify your distribution.

They can give you access to distribution channels that you never considered getting listed on but fit your business perfectly. Rentals United, for instance, has 60+ channels to choose from!

Once you’ve improved your vacation rental marketing mix, you’ll be able to reach new audiences, gain more visibility and target niches that correspond with your rentals’ profile.

Ultimately, more eyes on your listings will lead to an increase in bookings, occupancy and revenue.

4. Get exclusive access to alternative channels

Some of the best-performing alternative channels out there don’t accept listings uploaded manually by property managers. If you want to advertise on them, you need to go through a channel manager.

Google, for example, works with a select number of tech partners - including Rentals United - who can get you listed. Right now, there’s no other way to have your listings appear directly in Google search results. This is worth considering because Google is a channel with huge potential.

First of all, it’s the biggest search engine in the world where millions of travellers search for accommodation every day. Secondly, it gives vacation rentals a chance to compete with hotels directly in search results. And thirdly, it’s still extremely underused by property managers, so you can be among the first to start getting bookings from Google!

Learn how to get listed in Google with Rentals United

5. Seamlessly integrate with other software

These days, software is all about connectivity. Different platforms need to communicate with each other so that you can work efficiently with a seamlessly integrated tech stack.

Channel managers integrate with a variety of tools like PMSs, yield managers, housekeeping apps, etc.

When buying a channel manager, make sure it integrates with other vacation rental software you use. Or, if you haven’t built your tech stack yet and you’re looking to add new solutions to your toolbox in the future, check if the channel manager integrates with providers you’d consider working with.

As an example, Rentals United integrates with operational tools like HelloHere, Doinn and Wishbox, dynamic pricing tools like Beyond Pricing and PriceLabs, and over 50 property management systems.

How to choose the best channel manager

We hope that answers your question “What is a channel manager?”. Now, let’s take a look at some benefits of using a channel manager for your property management business.

1. Does the channel manager have up-to-date API connections?

We can’t stress this enough: reliable API connections are the heart of a successful channel management strategy.

When speaking with channel management providers, inquire if they have the most recent updates in place for each online travel agent they work with.

A good way to do this is by checking your preferred online booking site’s product update log for new features. Then, ask the channel management company whether their users have access to those features.

2. Does the company provide tools and resources to help property managers grow their businesses?

Channel managers should always strive to provide their clients with the best tools and resources on the market.

Buying a channel manager is a huge business decision and something that will impact your day-to-day life and your bottom line.

So, choose a provider that makes a constant effort to not only keep their connections up-to-date but offer extra help with business strategy, search engine optimisation in OTAs, revenue management, and more.

For example:
Does the company have account managers who can give you advice on which online distribution channels to get listed on? 
Are they making an effort to keep adding new channels to their list of connections? 
Will you receive guidance on how to optimise your listings so they rank higher on OTAs? 
Does the channel manager have advanced pricing options that can help you fine-tune your revenue management?

These are all good questions to ask the provider you have your eye on!

3. Is the channel manager recognised as a trusted partner by major OTAs?

You’ll know a good channel manager by the number of OTA badges they have. That is, how many online booking sites recognise them as trusted partners.

OTAs have strict criteria for the partners they choose to work with. Their endorsement is always a good indicator of a channel manager’s expertise and reliability.

Currently, Rentals United is the only vacation rental channel manager recommended by the four big OTAs: Airbnb, Booking.com, Vrbo/HomeAway and Tripadvisor.

4. How long does the channel manager onboarding process take?

When contracting a SaaS (software-as-a-service) provider like a channel manager, there’s usually an onboarding process that requires the investment of time and effort from your side.

This is necessary for you to get to know the software and all of its features, so you can get the most out of it when you’re using it on your own.

However, make sure that the onboarding process doesn’t take too long. The whole point of getting a channel manager is to save time. If it takes months just to learn how to use the tool, it’s probably not the best investment of your time or money.

At Rentals United, we like to get the onboarding done within three weeks. The process involves a 1-hour introductory call, a 30-minute follow-up call, a 30-minute wrap-up call and some homework in between. That’s it!

Once your channel manager is set up, you can start mastering your online distribution and increasing your bookings, with the peace of mind that your channels will always be in perfect sync.

Learn more about getting started with Rentals United

5. What’s included in the pricing?

Before you commit to a channel manager, make sure you understand how its pricing works.

Here’s what to look out for:
Is it a subscription service or a commission-based service?
Is there a setup fee?
Do you have to sign a long-term contract?

We recommend choosing a subscription service over a commission-based one so you know exactly how much you’ll be paying each month.

It’s also advisable to go with a provider who doesn’t require you to sign a long-term contract - just in case you need to cancel your plan for some reason.

A reasonable setup fee can be justified, but there are many providers out there who don’t require a setup fee and will still guide you through the onboarding process with the help of a dedicated specialist.

If you’re contracting a subscription service, it’s also good to double check what the pricing plan includes.

Here are some questions to ask:
Are all the tools the channel manager has included in the monthly fee or just the basics?
Are any external services that the channel manager integrates with included in the pricing, or do you have to contract them separately?
Are listing site commissions included in the pricing?

For example, at Rentals United, you don’t need to sign a long-term contract, there’s no setup fee, and our monthly fees include using our Channel Manager as well as all of our other tools: Guest Planner, Booking Engine, Guest Communication, Quality Checker, iCal Sync and Multi-Calendar.

For more info, check out our pricing page

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