A vacation rental channel manager lets you list on multiple sites without the manual work and constant danger of double bookings.
But choosing one isn’t easy. A lot of tools market themselves as channel managers but are actually property management systems (PMS). On top of that, it’s not always clear which is right for your portfolio size, budget, and needs.
At Hostfully, we specialize in helping property managers grow their reach and streamline their business. So we’ve put together a list of the 5 best vacation rental channel managers and PMS to help you decide.
We checked out which channels they connect to and how, the features they offer, and what users say about them. We’ll also cover why you need one, and what to look for when choosing.
Why do you need a vacation rental channel manager?
To maximize distribution and bookings, you need to list on online travel agencies (OTAs), metasearch aggregators, online marketplaces, and any smaller sites that are relevant to your niche.
A vacation rental channel manager lets you be across more channels without increasing your workload. You can list on global and local OTAs, reach niche segments—like LGBTQ+ or pet-friendly—and get more eyes on your brand.
If you don’t use a PMS, vacation rental channel managers can also sync with your direct bookings website. The channel manager will block off dates on the listing sites or the direct booking site when a reservation comes in on one of them. This way you save on OTA fees, but still get to keep a wide distribution.
Increased bookings and revenue
Widening your net leads to more bookings, higher occupancy rates, and increased revenue. It’s a tactic used by all larger hotel chains and vacation rental management companies (VRMC) to great effect. Plus, you can up your nightly rates without fear of losing bookings—if they drop off in one channel, the rest should make up for it.
For more tips on how to leverage multichannel distribution, check out our report.
No more double bookings and overbookings
When a booking comes in on one channel, your channel manager automatically blocks calendars across all portals you list on in real-time, even while you sleep. This means no more double bookings and none of the associated stress, extra work, and potential for negative reviews. And it avoids you falling foul of OTA policies that discourage canceling bookings.
Even if you’re only listing on one booking portal and your own direct booking website, double bookings can still happen. You’re not always in front of your computer. And nothing ruins a recital or quiet time faster than having to manage reservations before a double booking happens.
More consistent information and branding
As well as syncing availability and reservations, the best channel managers automatically update pricing, guest messages, minimum stays, etc. across all your channels simultaneously. This saves you a ton of time and manual work logging in and out of different websites. And it ensures consistency across all your channels, which helps build trust with guests.
Greater independence and future-proofing
Listing on multiple channels means you’re not reliant on the same OTAs and, therefore, less vulnerable to change. So if Airbnb goes out of business or changes its commission structure, you have other revenue sources to fall back on.
You also have more freedom to experiment with copy, marketing strategies, pricing, etc. on smaller channels before rolling them out to larger ones.
Managing a single property is one thing. But once you start to expand, human input and error become a barrier to growth. It’s impossible—and highly inadvisable—to try and manage multiple booking channels manually. Channel managers are a must-have weapon in any serious VRMC’s arsenal.
They also provide greater visibility of all your bookings in one central platform, which facilitates remote property management and reduces the potential for human error.
All of which puts you in a better position to scale.
Do you need a vacation rental channel manager or a PMS?
Whether you need a vacation rental channel manager or a property management system (PMS) depends on your needs, portfolio size, and stage of growth.
Channel managers come into their own for listing on niche websites. For example, if you have an eco-home and want to appeal to environmentally aware travelers. So they’re best to widen your reach. While they offer property management features, these tend to be less well developed than full-stack PMSs.
By contrast, PMSs are designed to centralize, streamline, and automate property management tasks. So the focus is on developing these features rather than native channel connections. While many have excellent channel managers, the range of native integrations is narrower and usually focuses on larger OTAs. Lower-tier PMSs may also have fewer options to configure pricing, amenities, etc.
If you’re only managing just a few properties, a channel manager and direct bookings website may be all you need. However, as you grow your portfolio and teams, you’re likely to need the features a PMS offers.
That said, many large VRMCs have a PMS and a subscription to a third-party channel manager. The PMS solves operational challenges while the channel manager handles distribution. Large VRMCs do this because, depending on the PMS used, channel managers are the only way to list on sites like Google Vacation Rental, Homes and Villas by Marriott International, and Expedia.
What to look for in a vacation rental channel manager
Here’s what to look for in a vacation rental channel manager.
This is your number one priority when selecting a vacation rental channel manager. Check that it covers all the major channels and location/niche-specific ones you need to be on to build your brand and reach. It should also connect to your direct booking site.
It’s also worth checking where a channel manager is based as this can indicate specialist knowledge of channels relevant to your region. Ditto if they have specialized knowledge and support of your property type—like boutique hotels, short-term rentals, etc.
You should also evaluate whether you need a true channel manager, or if you could achieve sufficient distribution with a PMS. For example, if you only need to list on larger OTAs.
Connectivity and synchronizations
It’s vital to check whether a vacation rental channel manager connects to booking portals via iCal or an API.
iCal is a free alternative to distribution channel management that uses small text files to sync properties across various channels. However, iCal comes with some serious downsides:
- It can take anything from a few minutes to a few hours for channels to “pull” bookings from your iCal file. During this time, you could get a double booking.
- Distribution channel updates can mess with iCal and you might not notice you’ve lost connectivity. During this time, you could get a double booking.
- iCal only manages your calendar. So there’s no option to also update pricing, guest messaging, etc.
Always go with the tool that offers the most API connections, and check what information gets synced. Some tools only sync calendar availability; others update everything from pricing to property details.
Evaluate whether, in addition to channel management, you need guest communication, a centralized inbox, analytics, etc. If so, you’ll need to weigh up whether a true channel manager can cover your needs or if you really need a PMS.
If you’re taking bookings, you need a tool that integrates well with payment gateways, dynamic pricing tools, and other third-party hospitality software.
If you’re also using a PMS like Hostfully, check that it integrates seamlessly with your channel manager. And that the sync is two-way. So any changes you make in your PMS are automatically reflected in the channel manager in real-time and vice versa.
If you’re investing in a tool to prevent double bookings, you need it to be reliable. If it’s buggy and has a habit of going slow or down during busy periods, you could end up on the wrong side of guests and OTAs.
Check reviews on sites like G2, Capterra, etc. before buying to see what other users say.
Pricing should never be your first consideration when choosing channel management software. However, if the cost is too high, that can hamper your growth, especially in the early stages.
Look for vacation rental software that’s priced on a sliding scale, with discounts for volume. That way, you can scale without breaking the bank. It’s also worth looking for solutions that offer access to all essential features on lower tiers. So you can try them before upgrading.
Onboarding and support
If you’re just getting started, switching tools, or scaling, you’ll need more support as you onboard and learn the tool. Ask sales teams about their onboarding process. What’s involved, how long it takes, how much 1:1 support you get, etc.
Ask about ongoing support too. Is it the same on all tiers? Do you get a dedicated support agent or will you have to wade through help pages to troubleshoot? Where is the support team based and what are its hours? Again, check online reviews to see what existing customers say.
Finally, check whether there’s a minimum or maximum number of properties you need to register.
For specific advice on how to choose a vacation rental PMS, check out our recent post.
The 5 best vacation rental channel managers
You’ll see a lot of tools advertising as channel managers. However, for our money, there are only two pure vacation rental channel managers on the market that we’d recommend.
Let’s take a look at them.
1. Rentals United
Rentals United is an award-winning channel manager that’s well-regarded in the industry. It’s also a preferred connectivity partner of Booking.com, HomeAway, and Agoda. With pricing that starts at 10 units, Rentals United is aimed at larger VRMCs rather than those just starting out.
- Two-way API connections to 60+ certified short- and mid-term rental listing sites, OTAs, niche and local channels, meta searches, and wholesalers
- Supports single property and multi-unit distribution
- Supports all amenities, bedding, and pricing configurations
- Automated listings quality check with advice on improvements
- Integrations with PMS like Hostfully, payment processing, dynamic pricing tools, etc.
- Direct bookings engine and website template
- Centralized inbox for guest messaging
- Dashboard overview of reservations
- Mobile app
Rentals United is priced at €199/month for 10-19 properties. This rises to €399/month for 40-49 properties. After that, it’s custom priced.
Onboarding includes 2 hours of training and support.
Pros and cons
Rentals United has a good reputation and offers distribution across lots of channels. One plus is that you maintain ownership of your listings, reviews, and OTA contracts. So if you stop working with Rentals United, you don’t lose it all.
However, it doesn’t come cheap and is a self-serve tool. So if you’ll likely need a dedicated admin to get it set up and troubleshoot.
The support team is based in Spain and response times can be up to 5 hours. This can mean a delay in getting support if you’re in other parts of the world.
It also offers fewer property management features than a full-stack PMS.
In business since 2006, NextPax is a well-established channel manager and Premium Partner of TripAdvisor Rentals. It offers connectivity to 100+ channels and is based in The Netherlands.
- Two-way API connections to 100+ channels, OTAs, metasearch engines, etc.
- Supports rate-plan sync across the board, whether unit-specific or chain-wide
- Yield management options
- Direct booking website
- Email templates for automated guest communication
- Integrations with PMS, payment providers, etc.
NextPax charges a commission per booking, but exactly how much isn’t published on its website. There are no implementation or fixed monthly fees. This means vacation rental management companies only pay for what they need, making it a risk-free way to widen distribution.
Pros and cons
NextPax offers access to a wider range of channels than Rentals United. And it offers help to select the most profitable channels to list on. However, it has a very low online presence with almost zero reviews. This and the non-transparent pricing make it hard to assess whether it’s for you.
Support agents are based around the world, which is helpful. However, response times can be up to 24 hours.
The 3 best PMS for channel management
Dedicated channel manager offerings in the vacation rental industry are limited. For hosts and vacation rental property management companies looking for a single software to handle operations and distribution, there are great PMS options like Hostfully.
Hostfully is an award-winning, full-stack PMS and Preferred Partner of Airbnb, VRBO, and Booking.com. It’s used by vacation rental managers of all sizes and includes all the features you need to manage, automate, and grow your business.
Hostfully key features
- Two-way API connections to 14 channels, including Airbnb, Vrbo, and Booking.com- customize copy, amenities, and pricing for each OTA
- Integrations with Rentals United and NextPax to offer distribution to over 170 channels
- Robust integrations with payment processing, dynamic pricing tools, etc.
- Booking pipeline gives you an at-a-glance view of confirmed bookings and lead status, with tools to automate the guest workflow
- Browser-based digital guidebooks let you automate the provision of important pre- and in-stay information, make recommendations, and upsell services and amenities
- Customizable rules and triggers to automate and streamline workflows
- Direct bookings and/or inventory widget that sits on your own website
- Unified inbox and automated guest messaging
- Mobile app in development
Hostfully is priced by portfolio size and starts at $109/month for up to 4 properties. For example, you’ll pay $260/month for 20 properties. Pricing is designed to reward growth: the more properties you add, the cheaper each unit is.
A one-time onboarding fee of $600 is waived if you sign up for a year.
Hostfully pros and cons
Hostfully offers more features to streamline and automate property management than a true channel manager. But it doesn’t provide access to as many channels, so you’ll need to also sign up to Rentals United or NextPax to really widen your net. Fortunately, Hostfully’s low per-unit price point compared to some other PMSs means this won’t break the bank.
Hostfully also has a great reputation for white-glove support, including your own dedicated customer success agent and specialist training. This plus the affordability makes it a great option for VRMs of all sizes and stages of growth.
Guesty is a well-funded, advanced end-to-end PMS that’s well-regarded in the industry. With pricing toward the upper end of the scale, its customer base tends toward large, established VRMs.
Guesty key features
- Two-way API connections with Airbnb, Booking.com, Agoda, TripAdvisor, Vrbo, and Misterb&b
- Integrations with Rentals United and Siteminder for distribution across hundreds of major OTAs and niche channels
- Supports sync of availability, reservations, content, rate plans, promotions, and messaging—manually create reservations, adjust pricing, and set date-specific rules from the central calendar
- Dashboard view of current and upcoming reservations, payments, check-ins, etc.
- Centralized inbox and dedicated 24/7 guest communications agent
- Multi-unit grouping to streamline management and maximize occupancy
- Automations and triggers
- Individual owner portals
- Direct bookings website or widget
- Integrations with dynamic pricing tools, payment processing, etc.
- Mobile app
Guesty charges on a sliding scale, starting at $44 for 1 listing. Over 3 listings, pricing is customized according to your needs and portfolio. Most likely on a commission basis with 2-5% charged for each booking.
Onboarding costs aren’t published but some users report fees of over $1000.
Guesty pros and cons
Like Hostfully, Guesty is a PMS first and foremost, so you’ll need to integrate with a channel manager to achieve widespread distribution. And while it offers a good range of native channel integrations to the larger channels, Expedia doesn’t make the list. The TripAdvisor connection is also only available for 15+ properties.
If a PMS is what you’re looking for, you can’t go far wrong with this top-flight platform. However, all those features come at a price—prohibitive for smaller VRMs. Unless you have a large portfolio or team, you could end up paying for features you don’t use.
Support is also prioritized by portfolio size, so smaller managers may find it hard to access the help they need when starting out.
Hostaway is another premium PMS for professional VRMs looking to automate and scale their business. It has a reputation for being reliable and user-friendly and is a Preferred or Premier Partner of Airbnb, Vrbo, Booking.com, and Expedia.
Hostaway key features
- Two-way API connections to major OTAs and niche sites—customize rates, content, amenities, and images as well as availability
- Integrations with dynamic pricing, accounting, marketing tools, smart locks, and more
- Centralized inbox and automated messaging
- Owner and guest portals
- Powerful analytics, reporting, and accounting features
- Revenue management features
- Automation triggers, including automated reviews
- Direct bookings website
- Mobile app
Hostaway is custom priced according to your needs and portfolio. Pricing isn’t published, but a frequently quoted estimate is approx. $50 per property/month. So for 20 properties, you’d pay $1000 per month.
Hostaway pros and cons
Like Guesty, Hostaway offers all the features you need to manage your vacation rental business. And maybe some you don’t need until you get really big. This, plus the hefty price tag puts it out of reach of smaller or scaling hosts. It does, however, have a reputation for good customer service and a short learning curve.
Boost your bookings with a vacation rental channel manager
Vacation rental channel managers are essential to get more eyes on your listings. And that benefits your bookings and bottom line. They also save a ton of manual time and work and eliminate the possibility of double bookings
When choosing a vacation rental channel manager, be sure it offers reliable API connectivity to all the channels you need to list on. Also, it fits your portfolio size and budget and offers the functionality you need. You should also check what support is on offer, and help center response times.
Use our list of the 5 best vacation rental channel managers to help you choose. If you’re looking for a true channel manager to connect to major global and niche or local channels, you’ll want a subscription to Rentals United or NextPax. If, however, you need a cost-effective PMS that connects to all the major channels and has features to streamline and automate property management, you can’t go wrong with Hostfully.
Frequently asked questions about vacation rental channel managers
What is a vacation rental channel manager?
A vacation rental channel manager is a software tool that connects to online travel agencies, metasearch aggregators, niche booking portals, and more. Vacation rental channel managers sync availability, pricing, and other property information across all the channels you list on simultaneously. This increases your reach and prevents double bookings.
What is a channel manager for Airbnb?
A channel manager for Airbnb is a software tool that syncs bookings and other updates made to your Airbnb listing with other booking portals. For example, Vrbo, Booking.com, etc. This ensures information is always up to date in a central calendar on all channels and you never get double bookings.
How do I combine Airbnb and Vrbo?
You can combine Airbnb and Vrbo by using a channel manager or PMS to manage and update your listings on both sites in real time. This means information is always consistent across both channels.
How much is a channel manager?
Channel managers are usually priced according to the size of your property portfolio. Rentals United starts at €199/month for up to 19 properties. Hostfully’s PMS is more affordable at $12.50/month/property for companies with 20 properties.
Is there a minimum amount of properties to use a channel manager?
You need a minimum of 10 properties to use the Rentals United channel manager. NextPax doesn’t publish this information, but its website states “Our solutions are suitable for all types and amounts of accommodations.” This seems to indicate no lower limit. Hostfully’s PMS doesn’t impose any limits while Guesty’s PMS stipulates 15+ properties to connect to TripAdvisor.