Reviews on Vacation Rental Reservation Software for your Property Management Company
Vacation Rentals in Destin
In Search of the Perfect Online Reservation System
Today marks another day in the never ending quest to find the perfect online reservation software for my Vacation Rental Management Company, Shore Dreams Vacation Rentals. Don't get me wrong, my existing system has supported our business for the last seven years and has managed over 3500 reservations including backend management of our rental units. However, with every relationship, there is the enduring qualities and the ones in which you wish you could change, but know you can't. And there in lies my quest for the "next bigger, brighter and more robust online reservation system."
Before I go on and on and on, a little background on me. I am a college graduate with a BA in Radio-TV and a MS in Sports Administration, so I can manage things pretty well. I also received a AAS in Computer Data Processing, so I know my way around a computer and feel I have a leg up on evaluating various systems. I've had a 25 year career in Television, Sports and Music promotion so I feel my marketing skills are decent. I have owned long term and vacation rental property for over 20 years and that is how I ended up writing this article.
Back to running a vacation rental company...
When I began this journey (I feel like I should be handing somebody a rose soon!), I made a list of what were extremely important features necessary or important enough for me to "switch" to a new Online Reservation System, besides the obvious.
1) Hosted Website so that all links are your domainname.com/reservations for example
2) Easy to use Online and Web Booking Engine with Owner Booking Capabilities
3) Online Payment and QuickBook Integration
4) Auto Inquiry Response Feature
5) Damage Deposit Insurance and Travel Insurance Features
6) Housekeeping Login Portal
7) Vendor and Housekeeping Management and Invoicing Feature
8) Auto Guest Email and Booking Notifications
9) Enhanced Search Engine Optimization and Marketing Capabilities
10) Easy Data Entry and Unit Rate/Information Duplication
11) Website Control via WordPress or other updating systems
12) State/County Tax Computations
13) Flexible Options in Booking Engine
14) Great support and quick followup with Issues
15) Continuous updates and additional features
16) Online Rental Agreement Approval
17) Online Promotional Code Options
And many more...Well, guess what? THE PERFECT ONLINE RESERVATION SYSTEM DOES NOT EXIST! So, I will begin to review the Systems I have tried (some beta; some free trials; and some purchased, used and discontinued!) and give you the pros and cons. I will also give you some tips on why a particular System may not be ready for PRIME BOOKING TIME at the moment, but maybe in the future. At the end of my journey, I will let you know which software I decide to choose. I will also continue to provide some different tips and options that may make your quest for the best operational System easier.
A few things to remember...
1) 85% of the booking inquiries are from By Owner Websites or phone calls
2) 25% are online bookings directly from the website.
3) If you can send your booking inquiries directly to your website that increases your online bookings.
The reason this is important, is that most Online Reservation Systems operate on the premise that everyone goes to the website and books online. That is great if you are Hilton Hotels or Resortquest, but not a boutique management company. Regardless, the process for us is pretty much how I outlined it above.
Now on to what I DON'T WANT....
1) Promises, promises before I purchase
2) The flashy online booking presentation with limited functional management portals
3) No online booking capability
4) No quote feature and hard to find availability calendars when doing a phone/inquiry booking
5) Bright colors that look like an endless website promoting the next best networking marketing program
6) More work for us more money from us
7) Support that tells you one thing one day and another thing another day
8) Upgrades that improve the functionality of one feature while disrupting the functionality of another.
9) Duplication of efforts such as not having templates for pricing of similar and multiple units.
Now that you have a good idea of what I am looking for, please send me your free trials, beta trials, mega trials and I will try them out. If you have new technology for the smaller companies 1-10 units, send them too. Meanwhile, I will revisit the systems I have tried over the last two years, allow them to "wow" me with some of their new features and hopefully give you and them some constructive feedback.
There are more than a few roses to give out at this part of the journey and who knows you may just get that final rose and our business!
Check out this interesting 2013 survey by VRM Intel Technology Survey regarding trends and challenges for Vacation Rental Managers.
So we decided to try LiveRez after being with RentOne Online and a brief foray with Bookt and Instamanager.
The Pros & Cons so far:
- Good website and great SEO (search engine optimization)
- Website is customizable to a point and is easy to navigate.
- Good back end housekeeping and maintenance portals. (my cleaning teams' really like the system) They are a bit confusing at first and I think an online tutorial would help train housekeepers.
- Great owner login and owner statement capabilities, (except for no partial payment system for longterm rentals or snowbirds yet.)
- Owner bookings for guests of owners does not flow through to the reservation system. What is the point then? Scratching my head again...
- Special and Discount abilities with promo codes!
- Great customized automatic email of instructions and payment reminders. However, you have to do HTML for driving directions and unit specific information. I know HTML, most folks don't.
- The travel insurance feature with CSA Travel Protection provides a great incentive for vacation rental managers and is easy to use and pay for. I am still waiting to see how the claim process works. Update: It works great, if you have the receipts.
- The pricing and date range system needs an overhaul and does not provide for copying templates to multiple units. Update: This part is so yesterday. I want to duct tape my head when I have to update or create date ranges and prices. PLEASE DO SOMETHING!
- The Quickbooks feature works great if you set it up according to the LiveRez PDF. They suggest a Quickbooks Pro Advisor, but I think they forget to tell the Quickbooks Pro Advisor that an upgrade totally changes the way the accounting system works for the property manager.
I am convinced that for search engine optimization your site and domain should be consistent throughout your booking process. Many systems send your guests to an iframe or hosted site that takes them away from your domain.
DEMAND that your reservation system is hosted on your domain not theirs. It makes a HUGE difference in how potential guests find you...
Some cool updates from LiveRez:
- They have added MyRevue, which is an online review system that is incorporated into the guest experience. It integrates with the website and allows the manager to get feedback as well as testimonials and reviews about the units and the property management company. The review is then posted your website with a rating. It would be perfect if we could respond to the review and email it to our management team, but I suppose that is coming soon.
- The CRM system, (Customer Relationship Management) or automatic emails is really fantastic. I am not sure there is a better one out there. It is like having another staff member. They also have an auto response system, which I hope to get implemented in the next few months.
So as of now, I am a LiveRez fan and although not perfect, it is as perfect as can get right now and keeps on getting better...
I did make a switch from LiveRez to Streamline. Although, I really like a lot of the features, it became bit cost prohibitive for my small company and I really wanted an easier Image processing option and some integration with Glad To Have You and VRBO. LiveRez is a great company and I wish them much success in the future!
Update - A Year Later
It has been over a year since we switched to Streamline and its many "one stop shop" features. With a small staff, we were logging into eight different systems to accomplish what we could get done with one click into Streamline and one click into to Quickbooks Online. We were able to hire a couple more staff members with the amount of money we were saving by switching to Streamline!
The intuitive features are too numerous to list, however setting up units is a breeze, creating and managing the guest documents is actually fun. The Quickbooks Online sync solution with Streamline is seamless and our processing of owner statements and paying owners is very simple.
Furthermore, the sync with VRBO and other partners saves us having to update prices and calendars manually. The Housekeeping App is a favorite among our Cleaners and Inspectors as well.
Check out out our other Hubpage for a review of some of the other features we like about Streamline.
Update 2 years Later
I am still with Streamline and as long as they continue to be fabulous, I don't plan on changing. It is not the perfect software, however pretty close. I am anticipating a report that helps with my end of year tax profit and loss for the owners soon. A report that I can email?
About The Author
Renata Circeo-Loudon is the owner of Shore Dreams Vacation Rentals, a Destin and Atlanta Area company specializing in affordable family and pet friendly privately owned accommodations. In addition to hosting thousands of vacationing guests from all over the world, Shore Dreams Vacation Rentals provides owners with full service property management options in the Southeast.
As a former sports and music executive and real estate investor, Renata started Shore Dreams Vacation Rentals in 2010 and has expanded to Atlanta and Eatonton, Georgia as well as St. Augustine Beach, Florida.
She started her career in broadcasting and events at NBC affiliate, WICD-TV and by volunteering for the first Farm Aid. In 1990 she moved to Atlanta, GA to pursue a graduate degree in Sports Management and to fulfill a life long dream of working on the Olympic Games and the Super Bowl.
Renata worked for Live Nation Entertainment as an Area Vice President following a successful career with House of Blues Concerts in Atlanta. She manages most of her investments herself and enjoys new and innovated ways of utilizing technology and organization to streamline the handling of property management and vacation rentals.
Recently, she was featured in the “Millionaire Real Estate Investor”, by Gary Kellerand is excited to continue learning about real estate, investing and spending more time at her beach houses!