What is Vacation Rental Software?

Vacation rental software, as cited in Cottage Industry 3.0, is the single biggest difference between professional vacation rental owners and managers and those who consider it more of a hobby.

It is a game-changer.

Over the last 5 years, the innovations in vacation rental software have blossomed, serving all corners of the market: software that used to be reserved exclusively for the biggest vacation rental managers in the world is now accessibly priced for single property owners (and everyone in between).

Once you accept the fact that software can power your small business to new heights, keep reading... 

The 2 Main Types of Vacation Rental Software

To simplify matters, there are two main types of software.

First, property management software, which serves as the core backbone of any efficient business and does the majority of the automation jobs or "heavy lifting." 

Property management software is like the engine or transmission of a car: it's very hard to travel long distances without it.

The second type is auxiliary (or 'third party') software, which is an umbrella term covering anything from dynamic pricing software to digital guest book software to Wi-Fi marketing software. 

Auxiliary software is often described with the phrase "plug and play" meaning it plugs into your property management software.

That said, there are plenty of auxiliary softwares that can be used alone (ie. without a property management software). 

How To Build Your Software Stack?

This is a million dollar question: execute it well and you hydrofoil your business into the future.

But it's also a tricky question for two big reasons: 

  1. Every business has it's own set of needs
  2. Every softwares specialize in different things

To go about the vacation rental software assembly process, VRMB created The Agile Approach, which is a step-by-step guide to understanding the vacation rental software options and choosing the right tools for you.

The Agile Approach is not a technique but a language: it provides a framework or a “safety net” for you to move beyond familiar limits.

If you are short on time, building the ultimate software stack can be distilled down into these main steps: 

  • Familiarizing yourself with the strengths of features available on the market
  • Knowing the features that are most important to your particular needs
  • Choosing the right property management software to fit your core needs
  • Choosing auxiliary or third-party software (such as dynamic pricing software, digital guest book, Wi-Fi marketing) fill in the gaps where you need most.

What Are The Best Softwares On The Market? 

Be weary of any software company that tells you they are the best. 

As we have just discussed, "best" (when used without any context) is a very subjective term when it comes to vacation rental software. 

To solve this problem, VRMB produced Keystone Awards: the industry's first and only unbiased awards program dedicated exclusively to researching the most impressive software.

Our research aims to recognize and organize a generation of technology that is advancing the modern vacation rental manager further and faster than ever before.

To complement the wide-world of property management software, this year's Keystone Awards include fan-favorite auxiliary software as well. It is a quick way to get a snapshot of good options.

Pitfalls to Consider When Selecting Your Software

As you might imagine in any new space, software decisions are not straightforward. 

With the help of thousands of owners and managers, we've shared some pitfalls to watch out for in your demos. 

Coming Soon! Have you ever heard something like “Of course we offer that feature, just not now, but probably in December... of 202ish, or so... I think?” Some call this "vaporware" for applications and features that don't yet exist but advertised as "right around the corner."

“Nice to Have” features are desirable but you can operate just fine without them. We’ve noticed a lot of managers rule out otherwise great software options because they were lacking desirable features. Distinguish between desirable and critical features and be willing to “settle” on a software that has the best balance.

Hidden Fees: Many softwares advertise a flat fixed rate on their website but then add on a plethora of additional fees, so ask about all of these candidly up front.

  • Channel Fee (1-3% of bookings to maintain an API connection with each channel like Airbnb & VRBO) 
  • Website Fee ($250/month to host your website and maintain your booking engine for direct bookings)
  • Startup or Data Import Fee ($5,000 to help transition all your listing data, images, and automations to the new application)
  • Training Fee ($999 to train you and your staff on the new application)
  • Text/Data Fee (assessed per text sent to guest)
  • E-Sign Doc Fee ($1 assessed per booking when using digital signatures)

Many times these fees can be 2-3x the base software rate advertised depending on your booking revenue. These fees are negotiable and should be minimized to get the most out of your software budget.

Varying Quality of Features: Most softwares suggest they offer all the key features you will ever need, but a closer look will reveal many of those features can be very glitchy and even abandoned by most clients upon release. Make sure to ask how many clients are actively using this “super cool new feature”? Then ask if you can speak with those people.

Fixed Price vs. Introductory Rate: You may already be using a property management software and received the unfortunate news that your 2019 “special" rate is over. Your new 2020 “special” offer comes with a 200% price increase. Yikes! Request a fixed rate upfront if possible or negotiate a tiered pricing structure with a not to exceed cap.

Mobile Friendly or Mobile Foe? Some applications look great on the desktop but aren't optimized for mobile. With so much traffic going mobile it’s critical to have a mobile friendly application for your housekeepers, maintenance staff, guests, owners, and reservation agents. Make sure you’re able to demo the mobile application on all devices as well as the desktop version when comparing options and features.

How To Select a Software Without Going Crazy

Selecting a new vacation rental software can be a daunting task for most business owners.

However, it’s probably one of the best opportunities to dramatically transform your company. Follow these suggestions to get the most out of your search.

Get Educated: First and foremost understand the key features of the software and how each of them will be used within your business (i.e. 2 way direct vs. 1 way direct integration for channel management, housekeeping/maintenance modules automations, unified inbox and CRM management, permission controls and security). We would encourage you to join VRMB's Inner Circle to educate yourself among ~1,000 other vacation rental professionals.

Demo 3-4 good solutions, not 20! Identify a few good solutions for your size company. With a little online research you should be able to rule out several options quickly without scheduling a lengthy demo. A basic property management solution for 0-50 properties should run you <$500/month, while an advanced one can cost anywhere from $1000 to $10,000/month.

Talk with other Vacation Rental Managers, Not Just The Software Companies: Meet with 2-3 other PMs who are using the software solutions you're considering. Ask how long they have been using the software? Are there any red flags to be aware of? How quickly does the software provider address issues?

Dive In and Get Started Now! If this is your first software just know that there are some great low cost solutions available right now and improving every month. Pick one and get going. You will most likely change in 1-2 years if starting small and growing fast. In general, the advanced enterprise level softwares tend to be cost prohibitive until you scale closer to 50+ properties. Gaining experience on a basic software will prepare you for operating more efficiently when you are ready to switch to a more advanced platform.

Summary

Vacation rental software is the engine that runs your business so that you can focus on the activities you will get credit for.

It is a complete game-changer in the world of hospitality: it is what gives the independent owner or manager that power-boost necessary to compete on a global scale. 

By automating tasks that you would otherwise be doing by hand, you free up your time and brain to focus on more important stuff. 

If you are currently doing the same task more than once, it may be automatable. And with the variety of vacation rental software on the market, there is likely a tool for that need. 

But remember, vacation rental software should be a compliment to your limited edition style of hospitality that embraces the unique, personal, and endearing elements that only humans can execute.