The Key Differences Between a PMS and a Channel Manager

Jun 20 2023
The Key Differences Between a PMS and a Channel Manager

Get tips on how to use Hostfully to optimize your vacation rental business and make more profit.


What’s in this article?

If you’re managing multiple vacation rentals and are tuned into industry best practices, you’ll have heard of property management systems and channel managers. And yet, even if you have one or both in your tech stack, you may be unsure of what those terms really mean (and yes, it’s confusing!). 

There’s a lot of overlap between the two solutions—both help you market your properties, both help avoid double bookings and other operational issues, and both save you time. 

But a PMS and channel manager are very different, and you’ll need to understand what both these kinds of software do if you’re to maximize occupancy and revenue while making your job easier. 

That’s why in this article, we define each tool with clear examples and imagery, and explore your options as you optimize your processes and scale operations. Also, we discuss our very own all-in-one PMS, which comes with integrated channel management software.

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Difference between a channel manager and a property management system  

Channel managers and property management systems (PMSs) both automate essential property management tasks. But, whereas a channel manager has a very specific role, a PMS covers a much broader range of functions. 

A channel manager works as a marketing tool. It takes on the manual work related to listing your properties across websites like Airbnb and (or booking channels), while helping you avoid double bookings. We look into channel management more closely, below. 

Because PMSs include such extensive functionality, they often include a channel manager as one of their solutions. For example, Hostfully users can access a channel manager as part of its property management platform. 

However, a PMS or PMP (property management platform) will also include solutions for virtually every area of your vacation rental business, including guest communications and team management. We look at this range of features, next.

What is a property management system (PMS)?

A property management system is software that streamlines and automates vacation rental or hotel operations. It will include tools for tasks like assigning rooms and managing finances. 

Many PMSs also provide features for managing guest communication, team management, and marketing so you can further streamline operations and have all your key information in one place. For example, Hostfully’s end-to-end property management platform includes:

  • A channel manager that syncs with multiple online travel agencies (OTAs, or booking channels)
  • Integrations with specialized channel managers that link to over 170 channels 
  • A bulk editor so you can easily make changes to multiple property listings at once  
  • A master/sub-property editor so you can manage bookings for larger, ‘parent-child’ properties (more on this later) 
  • A centralized calendar that syncs pricing and booking information with all your listings
  • A direct bookings site builder to grow your brand and avoid OTA commissions
  • Automated messaging tools so you can respond to guests more quickly and a unified inbox where you can view all communications in one place
  • Digital guidebooks where you can share information about directions, house rules, and local services
  • A task management tool that automatically assigns work to your team based on your bookings 
  • Integrations with a huge range of specialized software include dynamic pricing tools that optimize your nightly rates and payment processing solutions

Because they save so much time, PMSs form a crucial part of your tech stack as you scale beyond a handful of properties. With no need to complete manual work like updating calendars or offering last-minute discounts, they allow you to focus on improving your services and increasing revenue.

How does a property management system work?

A property management system connects all your key tools and sources of data for managing your vacation rentals. 

So, it will sync with booking engines like Airbnb, VRBO, and as well as integrate with applications for team scheduling and dynamic pricing. This means it can provide real-time information about guests, teams, and property status. 

To maximize efficiency, a PMS creates automated workflows that simplify or replace manual processes. 

For example, when you receive a booking, Hostfully syncs this information across all your OTAs, updates your booking calendar, and sends personalized confirmation to your guest

What are the benefits of using a property management system?

Because they can transform so many areas of your operations, choosing a property management system is crucial to effectively managing a growing vacation rental business. Here, we look at the benefits a comprehensive property management platform provides. 

1. Payment processing

With payment processing integrated into your platform, you can avoid errors and save time as the software manages booking payments, security deposits, upsells, and payments to owners. And, with all these tasks automated, it’s completely scalable.

2. A centralized calendar

A centralized calendar provides a comprehensive overview of bookings and blocked dates to keep your team in the loop and up to date. And, if you opt for a PMP like Hostfully, which includes task management software, you can also automate schedules for your team.

Hostfully calendar
Get an instant overview of each of your properties within Hostfully’s calendar. Source

3. Automated messaging

Another key task that PMSs automate is guest communication, which is a huge time-saver as you scale. Rather than needing to message every guest throughout their stay, you can set up an automated flow of information to preemptively address their needs. 

Pro-tip: Use Hostfully’s templates and triggers to reduce your workload while providing guests with attentive service. Our software automatically pulls through details from your bookings, such as names and property information, to personalize your messages. 

4. A direct booking site

A platform with an out-of-the-box direct booking site gives you everything you need to start taking commission-free bookings. With Hostfully, you can create your own custom site in minutes, and start by-passing OTAs like Airbnb as you build your vacation rental brand.

A Hostfully direct booking site
Give guests a great experience with a Hostfully direct booking site like this one. Source

5. Reports and analytics

A PMS is your vacation rental business hub, providing you with instant insights into booking fees and taxes, check-in and check-out times, spending, and revenue. From here, you can analyze trends, develop strategies, and share reports with owners. 

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What is a channel manager?

A channel manager is a software dedicated to coordinating all your listings across multiple OTAs, syncing your calendar availability, and allowing you to easily adjust nightly rates.

For example, with Hostfully’s channel manager, you can bulk edit property descriptions, images, and even discounts.

This saves you hours of work, eliminates human error, and puts a stop to the risk of double bookings—even if you have a master-sub property, as we discuss below.

What are the benefits of using a channel manager?

Channel managers save you time as you market your properties. Here’s a more in-depth look at how.

1. Avoid double bookings

A channel manager instantly blocks dates across all your listings when someone books your property or if you mark a unit as unavailable. This means there’s no risk of damaging your reputation by accidentally taking a double booking. 

With Hostfully, you can also simplify booking management for large properties with sub-units. So, if someone books one of your units, channels will be notified that the entire property can no longer be rented out, but that other sub-units are still bookable.  

Also, if you have various identical units, you won’t have to create individual listings for each one—our software lets one listing take care of it all, automatically managing your calendar and availability as the bookings roll in.

2. Save time creating and updating multiple listings

When you can make changes more quickly, you have time to update your listings more frequently. And this means that you can attract more guests by customizing your marketing for different seasons or types of guests

For example, you can update all your listings to advertise availability on a specific range of dates and with a last-minute discount. Then include imagery to reflect the time of year or a specific upcoming local event.

Airbnb listing
Easily update your listings to suit upcoming events with a channel manager. Source

3. Post to niche sites

Channel managers also connect with niche websites where you can target a specific kind of guest. 

If you were looking to market to last-minute travelers, for example, you can use your channel manager to link with sites like getawayGoGo and Whimstay. You can then cater your property descriptions to align with your audience’s needs and interests.

Channel manager vs property management system: Which is best for you?

As you grow your vacation rental business, a channel manager alone is not enough. To avoid spending hours every week doing manual admin tasks like logging reservation data, you need a property management system.  

By connecting your operations, automating processes, and centralizing key information, a PMS  simplifies your day-to-day, so you can focus on higher-level business concerns, like building relationships with new homeowners

And with a channel manager built into that platform, you can easily and efficiently market your properties, and sync key details across listing sites.

Get more bookings with a property management platform 

With the right PMP, you can not only widely market your properties and avoid double bookings, but you better support your team, give guests a great experience and devote more time to scaling your operations.

Hostfully offers an integrated channel manager in its property management platform. Here, you can sync your listings with multiple booking platforms and, through integrations with specialized tools, market them on 170+ other channels, too.  

With functionality for overseeing guest communications, team operations, and automating manual work all in one place, you’ll be able to create more efficient, guest-focused processes as you scale.

Reduce your workload using Hostfully to manage all your needs.