The Evolution of The Modern Vacation Rental Manager

Author: Matt Landau
Category: Harness Tools
June 3, 2020

In anticipation of our next Keystone Awards, we have examined 1000+ completions of our Property Management Software Selector Tool and enlisted the data science services of Wes Melton of Nokori to help find patterns and visualize trends. 

Matt Landau, VRMB.com

Wes Melton, Nokori.com

INVITATION: If you currently use a PMS, please contribute to our research by completing the Current User PMS Feedback Survey and you will receive VIP findings before they go public. Sorry, no PMS representatives permitted.

Survey Format

Each Property Manager was asked a series of questions, each specifically identifying the importance they placed on a number of PMS specific features, such as powerful revenue management, trust accounting & reporting, work order management, etc. and so on.

Specific Methodology

While no data exercise in this range can be thought of as 100% statistically significant, no objective poll performed by a truly objective party has been performed at this scale within the Vacation Rental Industry before now.

Therefore, it is believed that the current sample size is still directionally accurate, and a helpful tool to understand overall trends in software needs that Vacation Rental Managers have demonstratively expressed as real needs over the course of their own growth journeys, both through voice and vendor selection/changes.

All participant feedback has been anonymized, consolidated, and verified. Most data analysis projects begin with a large amount of 'data cleansing' - this effort has been no different. Significant time has been placed in cleaning the data, removing obvious outliers, removing participants who did not complete the entire survey, double entries, and any other feedback that appeared to be intentionally trying to sway the results by vested parties.

Dimensions

In this analysis, each survey response value has been normalized to a range from 0.0-1.0. This is a value which converts a 3-part scale to a relative percentage (0%-100%) for easier evaluation. For clarity, the original survey gave respondents the 3 following choices:

  • 1 - Not Important
  • 2 - Somewhat Important
  • 3 - Extremely Important

Additionally, Property Managers were segmented along the following unit quantities:

  • 1 Property Managed
  • 2-5 Properties Managed
  • 6-20 Properties Managed
  • 20-50 Properties Managed
  • 50-100 Properties Managed
  • 100+ Properties Managed

Part 1: The Importance of Features with Growth

Depending on property count, certain operational priorities were ranked more important than others. This can help to calibrate yourself: are you aware of all the features you could be benefiting from now? What about the features you may need as you grow? Click PLAY below and listen to Wes and Terry explain how to interpret. Then read Wes' analysis and Takeaways below. 

HOW TO READ THIS MATRIX

Observe The Constants

Some features show consistent demand through out the growth curve of all surveyed PMs. Most noteably, 'System Automations', 'Booking Source Visibility', and 'Property Detail Configurability' are pretty consistent in their importance to all survey participants. This highlights a fundamental understanding among even newer PMs who are just getting their feet wet, that this operationally intensive business requires repetitive tasks to be automated early in the growth curve.

Note The Dramatic Shifts

First, as property counts increase, a dramatic shift in importance happens around 'Work Order Management' as well as 'Housekeeping Management'. This is logical. As unit counts grow, "managing the minutia" becomes extensibly more difficult, thus needing better systems and processes in place to manage the growing headcount required to pull off all of the cleaning and maintenance requirements of the growing business.

Second, while not as severe, there is also noticeable uptick in importance for 'Revenue Management', 'Channel Management', 'Customizable Rates', 'Guest Portals', and 'Owner Portals'. We believe the growth of importance around Rate & Channel management revolves more closely to a more sizeable operation needing more sophisticated controls on revenue producing mechanisms, while guest & owner portals/communication likely centers more closely to automating guest communication, which is again a means of automating manually intensive managerial tasks.

Takeaways for Property Managers

Consistent across the board we find that around the 20-50 unit mark, operational automation takes a front-seat in terms of importance to operations. This gives new respect to the national managers we've seen emerge in recent times with thousands of units under management across many destinations and countries.

If you are below this threshold, or quickly entering it, we recommend not making purchase decisions based on your needs today, but to look ahead to ensure the system you pick will continue to serve you well as you move quickly in to needing more sophisticated automation and operational management solutions.

Part 2: The Co-Importance of Features

"I don't know what I don't know." This is a comment we've heard a lot when it comes to selecting a Property Management Platform. Use the graph below to connect features you know you need with closely ranked features you're not aware of.  Click PLAY below and listen to Wes and Terry explain how to interpret. Then read Wes' analysis and Takeaways below. 

Feature Co-Importance Matrices

HOW TO READ THIS MATRIX

This matrix primarily shows areas of 'hotness' that are visible across multiple features. For instance, we might conclude from this matrix that the same segment of users who heavily weight the importance of 'API Management' might also heavily weight 'Channel Management' or 'Property Detail Configurability'.

Property Managers should use this matrix to derive possible needs they may not realize they already have, or whether the importance demonstrated by the collaborative nature of the survey results should cause a reassessment of feature importance previously thought unimportant.

How this matrix was created

For the curious, this matrix is created by taking the average of all ratings for a given PMP feature, thus creating a "feature vector" (not in the typical meaning for those with a heavier stats background) that can then be used to create a heat map matrix such as this one using basic linear algebra. We fill in all cells by cross-averaging the two vectors to create this co-occurrence matrix of average importance.

Segmented Matrices

The above feature heat map is insightful for sure, but it is an aggregate of all participants in the study. For additional visibility in to the parts that make the whole, below is the same matrix segmented by each major segment that we specified above in the introduction.

Part 3. The Danger Zone

So how different are the needs of a property manager at different scales/sizes anyway? Based on the analysis of the data above, it may not seem that the needs are as different as we might immediately think. Additional analysis is required.

For the purposes of the following visualization, we are defining similarity as the cosine distance in multi-dimensional space between each property manager segment. 100% means most similar and 0% meaning least similar.  Click PLAY below and listen to Wes and Terry explain how to interpret. Then read Wes' analysis and Takeaways below. 

A couple of really interesting analysis pop out of this type of similarity matrix. First, notice the two primary quadrants that emerge: 1-20 properties under management (1, 2, 3) and 20-100+ properties under management (4,5,6). These two quadrants have been highlighted below:

However, there is an additional, well defined similarity grouping that is also really interesting (and logical), which is the cross-over that happens around the 6-20 properties under management mark. This shown in yellow below:

As you can see above, the area highlighted in yellow clearly denotes a transitionary similarity between the larger operations and smaller operations. This type of "emerging" analysis result isn't unexpected, but very helpful to see graphed visually like this.

We believe the proper conclusion to draw is that there is a marked operational transition, along with a required organizational maturity and sophistication that starts developing most likely around the upper end of the 6-20 units under management and lower end of the 20-50 units under management mark. This increase in organizational sophistication ultimately results in an increasing need for a higher-powered software solution.

INVITATION: If you currently use a PMS, please contribute to our research by completing the Current User PMS Feedback Survey and you will receive VIP findings before they go public. Sorry, no PMS representatives permitted.

About the author 

Matt Landau

Matt Landau is the Founder of the VRMB and the Inner Circle, two online resources dedicated to helping vacation rental owners and managers generate more bookings.

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