Understand your PMS data connectivity – Control, Position and Leverage your Data

3-Part Series:

  1. Build a Foundation for Leverage
  2. Understand your PMS data connectivity – Control, Position and Leverage your Data
  3. Leverage your data using best technologies and tools

Part 2VF01

From an operational standpoint, all businesses use the same two criteria to measure profit – Revenue and Expenses.    If you want to increase profits, you need to increase revenue, decrease expenses, or both.  There are always ways to increase revenue.  Sell more products!  Although not easy, there are a million ways to do that.  This article is going to focus on the expense side of the equation, specifically related to your website data connection.  The costs and options that you need to address when choosing a method to connect your Property Management Software to your website are something that many Property Managers pay very little attention to.  Mistakes made when choosing a data connection provider or service can prove to be very expensive.

 

Application Programming Interface (API)- how your data moves.

cloud-computing-concept [Converted]In simple terms, an API is a set of instructions that help a developer connect a website to a Property Management Software.  API’s are typically provided by the PMS Company as a way to provide initial developer support as well as reduce ongoing technical support overhead.  API’s give property managers an incredible amount of flexibility in what they can do with their PMS data.  This flexibility allows PM’s to deploy additional tools and features that extend well beyond those needed for website unit management and online booking.  It is critical that your PMS provider has an API.  It is the only way to ensure that you have options available to you that extend beyond what your management software provider can offer.  If there is no API, you are at the mercy of your PMS provider.  If you work with a PMS provider that has a “closed system” and no API you are likely already familiar with this limitation.  The conversation usually goes like this:

 

You:  I found a great new tool that I want to use and I need to provide data access to company XYZ to set that up.

PMS Provider:     we do not allow third party access to YOUR data

You:  then how can I take advantage of this new technology product?

PMS Provider:  We will have to build a similar product for you.

You:  Great!  When can you have that built?

PMS Provider:  Soon

In software development, “soon” can mean 2 weeks, 2 months, 2 years, or, in some cases, never!  This type of “data lockdown” is unacceptable and should be avoided at all costs.  The attractiveness of initial cost savings with “closed systems” often proves to be much more expensive in lost opportunities or having to switch to an “open system” down the road.

Assuming that you found a PMS with an API, now you need to connect your website to your PMS using that API.   You basically have three options;   DIY, “Package” or Plugin. web-design-and-development

  1. DIY (do it yourself)

You hire a developer and present them with the API documentation from your PMS.  This type of custom development requires an advanced skillset and can be very expensive.  One frequently seen pitfall is tasking your website designer with the API development component of the project.  Designing websites and development of API’s are two very different skill sets so that rarely works out well.  Some PMS companies “vet” Programmers to see if they feel they are qualified to complete the project.  This is in reaction to many failed attempts that result in countless hours of technical support headaches.  This option should be considered for very large Property Management Companies that have qualified professional in-house developers with API experience.  Even then, the PMS provider may or may not work with them.

  1. Package

The Vacation Rental vendor marketplace has more than a few options for website development.  Most vendors have an existing system that can connect a website to a PMS.  The advantage to this option is experience and expertise. These vendors have done this before, specialize in PMS connectivity and have existing relationships with PMS providers.  They already have a product that you need and do not have to start from scratch.  This is a huge advantage but also comes with a significant pitfall to avoid.  Most of these website developers will only provide the PMS connectivity to PM’s that also purchase a website design as well.  In this sense you are forced to purchase a “package” that includes a new website AND PMS connectivity.  In short, you can’t have the connection without the new website design and you can’t connect a new website to your PMS unless you use that company’s connection.  This is a very good situation for the vendor because they can charge very high prices.  Of course you can shop this around but historically speaking, the other vendors have the exact same business model.  All or nothing!   This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is most often very expensive!  This option may be appropriate for very large Property Management Companies that do not have a local developer that they prefer to work with and who like the simplicity of a “package”.  I.E., more eggs in one basket.

  1. Plugins

Plugins are typically associated with WordPress but the concept can be applied to all website content manage systems including Drupal, Joomla etc. Plugins provide extreme flexibility in that they “extend” the features of a wordpress-logo-stacked-rgbwebsite very quickly and easily.  Using WordPress, you would search the WordPress directory for a plugin, download it and enable it.  There are thousands of plugins available for things like contact forms, event calendars, security, and in this case, PMS connectivity.  Using plugins gives PM’s significant advantages and essentially eliminates the disadvantages and pitfalls of the above options.  Plugins offer the following advantages:

  • You can use any designer or developer
  • Not trapped into a high-priced package
  • PMS API Connectivity is built in
  • Quick technology deployment
  • Low initial and ongoing costs

Plugins for PMS connectivity are fairly new but a simple Google search for “VRP Connector” will get you started.   Using this method for PMS connectivity can save hundreds of hours in development time and tens of thousands of dollars in initial and ongoing costs. vrpconnector-300x77

From an expense standpoint, the options are in descending order with option 1 being the most expensive option 3 being the least.  Because these decisions deploy technologies that can have a lifespan of 5-10 years, the right decision at the beginning of a project can have long lasting implications – negatively or positively.

So far we have covered the concept of leveraging your data, and understanding your data connection.  In the next installment, we are going to add productivity tools to help you maximize leverage and revenue using the PMS connection.  We will also include a Technology Audit Calculator that will help you visualize your website technology costs and how they compare and add up over the lifetime of use.

 

Joe Pawlak is the founder of Gueststream, Inc.   He has worked in the technology sector of the hospitality/lodging industry since 1999. Joe has built a team of top specialists who offer industry leading website; design, development, marketing and software products. Joe has a degree in Commercial Recreation and Tourism from the College of Natural Resources at Colorado State University and lives in Denver, CO.

 

 

Technology Leverage Audit – How to get the most out of your Property Management Software Data

A 3-Part Series:

  1. Build a Foundation for Leverage
  2. Understand your PMS data connectivity – Control, Position and Leverage your Data
  3. Deploy Leverage your data using best technologies and tools

Part 1

Recent use of the word “leverage” is both ubiquitous and ambiguous.  This is likely due to its application to a multitude of markets and circumstances.  For example:

artwork-16923_1920Leverage
[lev-er-ij]   

Dictionary.com Definition – General

  1. the action of a lever, a rigid bar that pivots about one point and that is used to move an object at a second point by a force applied at a third
  2. the use of a small initial investment, credit, or borrowed funds to gain a very high return in relation to one’s investment, to control a much larger investment, or to reduce one’s own liability for any loss.

 

definition-390785_1920Vacation Rental Definition – Our definition

The use of existing data and data delivery systems to “repackage” and “resell” information.  The greatest effect is achieved with a model that repeats indefinitely 

Fortunately for Property Manager’s, the application of leverage is just as ubiquitous as the use of the word. Examples of the use of leverage in the vacation rental market are many and you are probably using some of them now.   The most obvious example is a website that uses your data to generate online bookings or generate leads.  VRBO.com and Homeaway.com are excellent examples.  From a scalability standpoint, these resources have very little “investment” in your data – most often you pay them! –They are able to “repackage” and “resell” your data over and over again – Leverage!  Can you think of other companies and products that use this technique with your data?


There are many other products that do this same thing and more popping up all the time.  Attend one of the big tradeshows this fall and you are sure to see some brand new products that have found a cool way to use your data to a mutual benefit.  All of this is classic in the sense that companies are finding new ways in new markets to leverage the same data.  What IS surprising is how many Property Managers do not use this technique to their advantage.

I recently had reason to travel to a small town in my home state of Colorado.  Of course I went online to find a home to rent.  I found a property management company that had some great units and I found one that I wanted to book.  To my dismay, there was no way to book the unit online and it took a full four days to finalize the booking!  I later found out that this company did allow online bookings on other websites.  This situation brought to light many problems with this PM’s approach to inventory management but for the purpose of this article, they were definitely not using the concept of data leverage!


As with most things in life you want to lay the groundwork or foundation on which to build.  Leverage is no different.  internet-1181586_1280The concept and example above brings us to the most basic (and first) starting point to start taking advantage of these principals – your own website!

Most PM’s know they need an online presence and their own website. Why?  Your own website is the lowest cost distribution channel you will ever have, period!  You should always attempt to drive as many online bookings through your own website as possible.  This is where you have commission-free and fee-free bookings with the highest margins of profit.  Yes, I have heard the argument that “some people only use VRBO”.  That is great and a great reason why you should also have VRBO listings to help generate additional leads.  I often counter with, “some people use VRBO to initiate their research but then look for the same unit on a local level”, or “sure, but not EVERYBODY only uses VRBO, what about all the others”?  Since this is the first part of a series and the main topic is leverage, we will not delve too deeply into maximizing your own website’s effectiveness.

Here are a few of the most important things that should be considered minimums:

  • Great Design – make sure your website is professionally designed. Does it look as good as or better than the listing sites that your guests are using to initiate their research?
  • Marketing – Spend some money on marketing. SEO, SEM, PPC, Email, Local etc…  If you don’t lay a marketing foundation on which you can build, you will be too reliant on listing services that do spend the money
  • Software Tools – Use a professional and cost-effective technology to connect your property management software data to your website. There are only a few good systems in existence so it is critical you do your homework
  • Ease of booking – this goes hand-in-hand with your connectivity. Good, accurate data combined with a fast and intuitive booking process will generate more bookings and revenue

download-1002802_1920Leverage is a great technique to use in any endeavor.  Whether you are trying to get a boulder over the crest of a hill, trade the stock market or maximize your vacation rental data, leverage can help you succeed.  As you are now well aware, an entire technology market in the Vacation Rental industry has recently emerged.  There are many companies leveraging your data for you (and them) and many more will be popping up in the future.  If entire businesses can exist and profit on the use of your data than you should also give the concept the attention that it deserves.

 

The next installment of this series will cover Property Management Software connectivity options, costs and opportunities.

Inquiry Responder Alternate Unit Matching

irm2Inquiry Responder Tools and Techniques

The importance of accurate alternate unit matching in an auto-responder – fine tune your responses for higher conversions.

social3_05Auto-responders need to do 3 things perfectly.  They need to respond quickly, they need to respond accurately and they need to facilitate an online booking.  Today we are going to dig into the second component – the need to respond accurately.

Let’s take a step back and explain what is meant here by an “auto-responder”.   In the Vacation Rental marketing space, the only kind of auto-responder you should be concerned with is one that can respond to high volume request sources like VRBO, Homeaway.com, TripAdvisor, Vacationrentals.com  AND  your own website.  A simple way to describe a good auto-responder is to explain what they do.  Here are the steps of the process from start to finish.

  1. A guest fills out and submits an inquiry form from a website like VRBO. The form contains standard information like the unit name, arrival date, departure date and number of adults and children
  2. The inquiry is received and parsed by your responder. This is done with a connection to your Property Management System allowing the responder to check unit availability, fetch rates and respond with a bookable price quote.  Or, the responder determines that the unit is not available and the response contains alternate units that closely match the original request
  3. Your guest receives the response in a matter of seconds or a few minutes, clicks on your “book now” button, and books the unit on your website

cool man doubting

The challenge in the above process is delivering a response when your guest’s first choice is not available.  This becomes critical when you are in high season, very busy and occupancy rates approach 100%.  Your guest may be scrambling to find accommodations and the first one available “wins”.  This is where the alternate matching logic concept comes into play.

If the “first choice” is not available you need to offer an alternate that is as close as possible to that first choice.  Do you need to match dates, nightly rate, beds/baths, complex, view or all of those?  Which are the most important?  Which matching criteria could you discard and still maintain a “valid” alternate?  What about choosing only specific units that you feel most accurately match that first choice?

The best responders can do all of that and give you the control to do it.  When done with accuracy in the match and precision with the price quote, a good responder can save you many hours and headaches – especially in the busy season when you need it most!

The Gueststream Inquiry Response Manager (IRM) has been developed and enhanced to do just that.  The images-for-check-mark-clip-artfollowing video will show you how to manage the alternate matching logic so you can have control over the process
of fine tuning your inquiry responses for the best results.

Watch Video

Click Here for more information

Click Here to request a demo

WordPress Website Development

Times change as quickly as the weather and the same can be said about website design technology. Website design technology vastly improves each year (and each month for that matter), leading to better guest engagement, increased functionality, and improved conversion rates. If your website is more than 3 or 4 years old, you are most likely losing out to your competition.  If your current website design is the same one that you had when any of the these events happened, the following 10 11 reasons illustrate why you should consider a new one.


“Web 2.0” becomes a staple in our vernacular (2006)

I1ssue: Your website is not converting guests (poor conversion rate) Your conversion rate is the percentage of website visitors that book versus those who do not.  If 5 out of 100 visitors “buy”, your conversion rate is 5%.  The purpose of your website is to close the deal.  Good website designs have low bounce rates (see below) and high conversion rates.  If you want to make money with your website, be sure that you are able to monitor and track these two critically important visitor behavior statistics.  If either metric is not favorable, you should consider a new design.  New designs that lower bounce rates and raise conversion rates pay for themselves in short order!


Mad Men premiers on AMC (2007)

2Issue: You’ve changed your brand positioning or messaging – Things change.  Whether it’s your branding, staff, inventory, business model etc…   When change happens, change your website.  Keep things fresh and current.  If you cannot do it on a weekly or monthly basis, have a plan for one big change (updated design, photos, content) every 18-24 months.  Even the best websites wear out over time.  Be sure to understand this and have a plan to address it.  As mentioned earlier, new websites pay for themselves.


CSI Miami is the 7th most popular program on television (2008)

3Issue: It’s slow There are many tools to help you speed up your website load time.  Image optimization, caching tools, and better content management are just a few.  Your guests expect pages to load quickly and will see an alternate website if they do not.  In recent months, Google has also added load time as a factor in its placement algorithm.  That means, all things being equal, faster websites will get better placement in Google than slower websites.    There is no excuse for a slow loading website.  This is exactly why Google does not tolerate them!

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Tiger Woods wins the U.S. Open, his last Major title (2008)

4Issue: High bounce rate Your bounce rate is the percentage of website visitors that leave after having just arrived on your website – usually your homepage.  If this number is low, great!  That means that your website design is doing its job and keeping visitors on your website.  If your bounce rate is high, you have a problem.  This means that people do not like what they are seeing.  This can be for any reason or, in most cases, multiple reasons.  This is a very troubling situation because you have done everything right to get a potential customers to your website only to squander the opportunity by presenting a website that does not meet the needs of your visitor.  If you have a high bounce rate, correcting that should be your #1 priority!


5Captain Chesley (Sully) Sullenberger successfully lands a US Airways Airbus A320 he was piloting on the Hudson River in New York City, saving the lives of all 155 passengers and crew (2009)

Issue: User complaints Yes, negative comments can be obnoxious and uncalled for at times. However, those same complaints about how long it took to find your contact info or how frustrating the online booking process is are clear signals that the time to redesign your website is NOW. Listen to feedback from your users. These are potential guests and repeat guests, so put their experience first and you will win!Who knew tilling a field could be so addictive?


Facebook launches FarmVille (2009)

6Issue: You can’t easily make content updates A Content Management System (CMS) will allow you to very easily add, edit and update your website with very little experience.  With over 60 million installations, WordPress is by far the most common CMS.  The original blogging platform has evolved into the most widely used system in the world.  Because of the sheer numbers, WordPress is also inexpensive to use and maintain.   Some advantages are; open source, many low cost designers/developers in community, use of plugins to extend functionality, thousands of professionally designed themes available.  WordPress is also “Google-friendly” system that tends to outperform non-wordpress websites from an Search Engine Optimization standpoint.


Conan is host of the Tonight Show (2010)

7Issue: It’s not mobile-friendly Regardless of your position on mobile usage, it is here to stay and growing rapidly.  The easiest solution is to address it with a responsive design.  A responsive website design is one that uses a format that automatically adjusts the screen size based on the device and screen resolution being use to render the website.  The easiest way to address bounce rates, conversion rates and mobile formatting is with a new design that is built using Responsive technology.  It’s like killing 3 birds with one stone.

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The first generation of the iPad is unveiled (2010)

8Issue: Your search engine rankings are lowSearch engine algorithms have changed quite a bit over the years, so if your organic search engine rankings are low, it could mean it’s time for an update. At one time, the key to SEO was to plug your content with as many keywords as possible. Thanks to Google’s recent Hummingbird update, it’s now all about having original, high-quality content on your website.  This is one reason why websites with blogs (WordPress websites) perform so well. If the content on your website wasn’t written with current SEO trends in mind, or it’s buried within Flash elements or images, it may be time for an update. Creating your website with SEO in mind will ensure that potential customers can find you online. With planning and foresight, a website redesign can help your website place higher in the search engines.


9LeBron plays his last game for the Cleveland Cavaliers (2010)

Issue: It just looks outdated and untrustworthy How many times have you come upon a website that just plain looks unprofessional?  What do you do?  If you are like most people, you hit the back button and begin look for a better option.  Fair or not, your business is judged by the quality of your website.  If you appear unprofessional, your website visitors will not trust that you are able to handle an online transaction in a professional and safe manner.  No trust = no credit card = no booking.  It’s as simple as that.  Does your competition have a professional website presentation with an intuitive and trustworthy booking path?  I wonder who will get that credit card number.


Simon Cowell is still a cantankerous judge on American Idol (2010)

10Issue: You’re embarrassed to give out your URL – Your website should, first and foremost, perform well.  If your website performs well, it probably already looks good and is something that you can and should be proud of.  If that is the case, get it out there with any and every marketing means at your disposal.  If you are not proud of your website, you are probably not alone.  Your website should be a source of information, revenue and pride.  If not, it is time for a new one.


11Your website survived the end of the world TWICE…Judgment Day and the Rapture (2011)

Bonus: A redesign is cheaper than repairs – Whew!  If you read this far you are probably thinking that you need a new website and are wondering what to do next.  Let the experts at Gueststream guide you through the design process. It’s quick, easy, and painless. Below are some examples of websites designs that you can use to compare to your own.  See how you stack up.  You will also find some technical information about what components make a great website.

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WordPress Theme Examples

To help get started and guide you through the development of your new website, we provide a seamless process from beginning (Discovery phase) to end (Deploy phase).

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WordPress Design Features

The following are just a few features that can be incorporated into your new design:

  • Responsive (mobile-friendly)
  • Content Management System
  • SEO-friendly
    • XML Sitemap
    • Static Sitemap
    • Clean URL’s

    Google Integration

    • Google Analytics
    • Google Webmaster Tools
    • Google Maps
    • Google Translate
    • Google Site Search
  • Quick Search Integration with Booking Engine
  • Photo Gallery with Slideshow
  • Homepage Slideshow
  • WordPress Training
  • Social Media Integration
  • 301 Redirects + Custom 404 Error Pages
  • Events Calendar
  • Email Marketing Signup
  • ‘Live’ Chat Integration
  • Weather Report
  • Ski Report
  • Testimonials
  • Blog
  • Employment/Careers
  • Area Attractions Map
  • Unique Photo Headers
  • MLS Integration for Real Estate
  • Breadcrumb Navigation
  • Contact Form
  • Multi-Browser & Multi-Device Testing
  • Banner Ads and Icons
  • Other Features Available

Pricing will vary depending on how many pages will be created, what features are to be included, and what other Gueststream products and services you’d like to bundle.  The more you bundle, the more you can save!

Websites are a vital part of doing business and communicating your brand, so doing it right is vital to the health of your bottom line. With Gueststream with you, what once had been a daunting task, redesigning your website isn’t considered a chore anymore. With so many questions and elements that need to be considered, contact Gueststream today and let us help you get started on a new tomorrow.

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About Gueststream, Inc.

The mission of Gueststream is to provide comprehensive and advanced Internet marketing solutions that generate online revenue for our clients. Our primary focus is the hospitality market and more specifically, lodging properties.  Our highest priority is client results and the delivery of superior customer service to ensure client satisfaction and retention. Learn more about us and how we can help you:

Breckenridgelodging.com Launches new website

breck-smBreckenridge Colorado based Online Travel Agent, Breckenridgelodging.com launches new website design.  The new system combines a custom website design, WordPress Content Management system and the Channel Partner Version of the Gueststream Vacation Rental Platform Central (VRPc).  The new system combines Gueststream’s unit management and booking technology with Homeaway Software For Professionals’ Channel Partner program.  The website combines inventory from ISILink and EscapiaNet distribution systems.  Click Here to see the brand new website live.