Hostaway explain how to choose the best channel manager for you. What is a channel manager? What do channel managers do and how should these features steer your choice? Read on to find out!
What is a Channel Manager?
First of all, we need to ask the question what is a channel manager?
Channel managers are integrations between your property management system (PMS) and online travel agencies (OTA). They are the bridge that allows you to update pricing, availability, and more across listings onto major sales channels such as Airbnb, VRBO, Expedia, Booking, and TripAdvisor. The list of channels may even include more niche OTAs.
Now that we know the purpose of a channel manager, we need to evaluate different software solutions. There is no shortage of channel managers but few provide full stable connections to all major OTAs.
In order to choose the best channel manager you must evaluate:
- The list of OTA offerings
- Status of the partnership between OTA and channel manager
- The quality of connection
- The limits of the connection
- Product reviews
- The company
- What other features and integrations are available
Which sales channels are connected to the Channel Manager?
When evaluating a channel manager the first thing to look at is, what are they connected to?
The key sites that any channel manager should be connected to are:
These sites represent the majority of accommodation searches on the internet.
More important than just advertising a connection, make sure that the channel manager is an official and/or preferred partner with these channels.
You can evaluate the partnership status of the channel manager with the below links:
- Airbnb Software Partners
- VRBO Software Partners
- Expedia Partner Central (please note the “filters” some partners such as Hostaway need to have the vacation rental filter selected)
- Booking.com (no public partner page)
- Tripadvisor Connectivity Partners
If you’re interested in a niche OTA not listed above take a look if the channel manager advertises a connection. At a minimum ensure the channel manager can export Icals that can be used to sync your calendar to these sites.
What are Ical, 1-way, and 2-way connections?
Some of the crucial understanding about channel management is the differences between Ical, 1-way, and 2-way connections. These terms will help you critically analyze competitive products.
The below connections are ordered by weakest to strongest:
- Ical – Ical is a file format that allows for the sharing of calendar details. In the channel management industry, it is commonly utilized to connect the calendar of your PMS with a calendar of an OTA. Icals are limited to only share availability data; they cannot update rates or any other type of data. This the weakest connection possible. If the channel manager you’re evaluating only advertises Ical connections to major OTAs, don’t waste your time.
- 1-way – 1-way is a connection where data is only being shared in one direction. In the channel management industry, this would mean the PMS data such as rates and availability are being shared with the OTA but the OTA isn’t sharing data in return such as reservation data. Technically an Ical is a 1-way connection but since an Ical is extremely limited it’s classified separately.
- 2-way – 2-way is a connection where both systems communicate with one another. This means that the channel manager is sending rates, availability, and more to the OTA and is receiving reservation and guest data in return. When evaluating channel managers only consider systems that have a 2-way connection with the major OTAs.
What are the connection limits?
Typically a channel connection is in reference to rates and availability but this only scratches the surface of what can be connected. The connection can extend to cancellation policies, amenities, descriptions, titles, photos, and more.
The deeper the connection the better. Look for a channel manager that has mapped as much of the connection to major OTAs as they possibly can. Even better are those such as Hostaway who continually update and test new API fields for major OTAs.
The more that is mapped and connected via API the less manual work you’ll need to do. You’ll waste less time updating your listings across sales channels if you choose a channel manager with a robust and extensive connection.
Have you checked the Channel Manager reviews?
Checking reviews is a crucial bit of product research when evaluating software. You can learn a lot about the product, support, and competitiveness of channel management systems by reading reviews.
The best sites to read product reviews in the software industry are:
- Trust Pilot
What else should you know about your Channel Manager?
Once you’ve checked the reviews, the next step is to learn more about the company. The key question you need to ask yourself when evaluating a channel management solution is “are they a technology company or a marketing company?”
It seems like an odd question but it’s important to understand. Look for a company that prioritizes technology, support, and product. Try not to be influenced by companies with huge marketing budgets and teams. The best places to do this research are on LinkedIn and Crunchbase.
First of all, review the list of employees and get a sense of how much the company invests in their product by looking for technical roles rather than marketers. Look for titles such as:
- Product Leads
- Technical Support
These are the people you want at the company because they are making the product truly amazing, stable, and reliable. The more of them the better!
Secondly, look into the background of the executive team:
- Do they have a long history in the industry?
- Have they held technical roles in the past?
As an example check out the LinkedIn page of Hostaway.
With Crunchbase you can view details about the financials of the company. Although it’s not necessary to pick the company with the largest funding it is important to see that they are both financially secure and capable of investing in their product offerings.
Companies without funding are a red flag within the technology industry.
What other integrations & features are available?
In addition to channel management, most vacation rental software companies offer a collection of features such as guest messaging, task automation, and more.
Research the other features available as well as the available integrations.
From Transparent research, in 2019, 78% of property managers were using a channel manager, up from 62% in 2018. Meanwhile, far fewer make use of other key tools such as guest management and operational services.
So – how to choose the best Channel Manager?
Evaluating systems takes time, knowledge, and understanding.
Narrow your search to companies with deeper, 2-way connections to major OTAs and solid reviews.
Evaluate their product by understanding the differences between connections and what the limitations of each system are.
Book demos with a few of the options that you’ve narrowed your search to.
Find a product that you believe will fit your needs now but is also a scalable solution for your needs in the future.
Consider the company you choose as part of your team. Look for a partnership and a company that truly cares about your success.
Reach out to the Hostaway team to learn more about their channel management and property management systems. Hostaway is a leading solution with deep connections with all major OTAs and a suite of automation tools to support property managers.
Author: Connor Griffiths | Hostaway Head of Digital Content
Connor is Hostaway’s Head of Digital Content and owner of a vacation rental management company in Western Canada. He regularly shares his experience, actionable tips and tricks about vacation rental management on the Hostaway blog.
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