As a vacation rental property manager or owner with few properties, you need a property management system that will support the growth of your business and help you spend less on operational expenses. Ideally, you’d also want to reduce mistakes and staff workload, while minimizing manual tasks through automation.
There are many solutions that offer a centralized view of all the properties and help you monitor and manage property-related operations (e.g. maintenance tasks, cleaning times, guest communications). But how do you actually evaluate different software providers and choose a PMS for your short-term rental business?
At Hostfully, we created award-winning software that helps deliver first-class hospitality at over 18,000 properties worldwide. To help you choose the right PMS for your vacation rental, we’ve created an in-depth guide so you can make an educated decision.
What is a Property Management System?
If you’re not sure what a property management system is and how it differs from other tools, you’ve come to the right place.
A property management system (also known as vacation rental software, property management software, or PMS) is a type of software created to help vacation rental owners manage their business more efficiently. It helps you manage bookings, centralize guest communications, organize maintenance and cleaning staff, and handle payment processing across all booking engines and OTAs.
Most PMS are customizable and flexible, meaning they can adapt to your specific needs. Additionally, they eliminate the need for paperwork and manual spreadsheets that cost you time.
This type of software solution enables property owners to schedule and automate day-to-day functions. Thanks to integrations, they can also enjoy the benefit of having a unified, centralized system that allows them to manage different aspects of their vacation rental business from a single place. You can use property management software for short-term rentals listed on Airbnb, Vrbo, Booking.com, and more.
How to choose the best PMS for your short-term rental business?
There are a lot of property management systems available on the market. At a first glance, they might seem similar which makes it challenging to figure out which option is best for you. This is why it’s important to have clearly defined criteria based on which you will compare different PMS solutions.
Below you can see ten different things you should evaluate before deciding on your property management software.
The first thing you need to take into consideration is the actual functionality of the vacation rental software you’re vetting. It helps if you create a list of must-have and nice-to-have features. To do so, identify what are the biggest pain points you and your team are facing. This could be anything from finding a way to reduce operational costs, handling repetitive questions from guests without wasting too much time, or improving the way you handle complaints.
Once you define your business challenges, prioritize them and start reviewing available vacation rental management platform’s features.
When choosing a PMS for your vacation rental business, pay attention to available integrations. The best solutions offer a variety of connectivity options so that you can use all your favorite tools more efficiently.
Your tech stack becomes unified which saves you and your team a lot of time. Juggling different types of tasks is challenging enough so working within one environment allows you to collaborate more fluidly with other stakeholders and automate certain parts of operations.
If you already have dedicated tools you love using, integrations are even more important. Here’s a list of the types of integrations you can look for:
|Type of integration||Benefit|
|Accounting software||Eliminates the need for manually importing income and expenses. Integrating accounting software in your property management software makes revenue management a lot easier.|
|Marketing automation tools||Allows you to effectively market your short-term rental across multiple channels.|
|Cleaning & turnover||Assign cleaning tasks automatically and ensure quality work gets done.|
|Business analytics||Centralize all important business data in a single place while enjoying a great top view of all property management operations in your PMS.|
|Digital signatures||Easily collect guest signatures without having to meet them live. You can even set rules and do this automatically.|
|Booking channels||Manage all potential distribution channels such as Airbnb, Vrbo, Booking.com, and more from a single platform.|
|Dynamic pricing||Integrate tools that rely on powerful algorithms to optimize your nightly rates while centralizing all vacation rental property management operations.|
|Guest experience||Different dedicated tools allow you to create an enhanced guest experience. From virtual concierge apps, baby rental equipment services to secure luggage storage—connect your software with your PMS for easier management.|
|Home automation solutions||With home automation solutions, you can remotely control lighting, heating, and cooling to ensure the best comfort for your guests.|
|Short-term rental insurance||Integrate tools that help you protect yourself, your short-term rental property, and your guests. Enjoy a centralized view in your property management platform.|
|Payments||If you want to upsell your guests, you need a payment processing tool like Stripe. Ensure that the PMS you’re considering supports these integrations.|
|Did you know? Hostfully has a super robust and best-in-class API which opens up new connectivity opportunities. It makes it easy to create custom software solutions for your short-term rental business. Thanks to our powerful API, we became the first property management software to have the Homes & Villa by Marriott integration!|
Another thing you should take into account is the quality of onboarding. Some software providers have low-touch onboarding while others offer high-touch onboarding.
Low-touch onboarding is based on self-service. As a user, you have access to product documentation and resources, there’s typically an onboarding flow that implies emails with product tips, or there are in-app walkthroughs that help you get to know the PMS. When you sign up for a free trial, you’re likely to experience this type of onboarding.
High-touch onboarding is tailored to you as a customer. You have a dedicated customer support manager or an onboarding specialist that supports you in getting the most out of your vacation rental software. This brings us to the next thing you should take into consideration.
Training and support
Some software providers in the vacation rental industry offer training and onboarding services. This is how they ensure you get the most value from the property management platform as early as possible. Great onboarding specialists have a clearly mapped out step-by-step process to guide users through. The aim is to shorten time-to-competency.
Here’s how training and onboarding looks with a PMS like Hostfully:
- Importing data (e.g. property information, local recommendations, and more)
- Configuring the dashboard and pipeline to suit your team’s structure
- Synchronizing calendars across channel partners (multi-calendar view)
- Sharing best practices so that you get the most value
- Training your team
Set up time
Once you decide on the property management system, you want to use it as quickly as possible. This is why you should also inform yourself of the complexity of the software and the time that’s needed to get it up and running. In most cases, cloud-based PMS have quick setup times and a mild learning curve which property owners appreciate.
|Pro tip: Thanks to automation in your PMS, you can invest an effort upfront that will result in great time savings long term. For example, it takes around 30 minutes to create guidebooks and this will save you hours in answering guest questions in the future.|
Pricing and hidden costs
Pricing is naturally something you need to factor in when comparing different PMS providers. Some companies are not as transparent about pricing as you’d expect. Some offer custom pricing for short-term rental businesses and you need to reach out to their sales team for a quote. Make sure to ask about hidden costs such as implementation fees.
At Hostfully, we believe that offering a price range can help you make an educated decision about the best PMS for your vacation rental. This is why we have a user-friendly calculator and pricing packages that are tailored to your business. The monthly fee varies depending on the number of listings you have and available features.
You want your PMS solution to be flexible enough to adapt to your preferred way of handling day-to-day operations. In general, you should look for software that has customization options that allow for creating a new plugin, adapting an API connector, or making small interface adjustments.
Additional green flags to look for include product teams relying on user feedback to improve the property management platform, announcements of product releases, and no need for complex developer work on your side.
Preferred partner status
It’s also good to check whether the PMS has the preferred connectivity partner status with listing sites and OTAs such as Airbnb, Vrbo, and Booking.com. This is a good indicator of the credibility and reliability of the software.
Some PMS solutions are better suited for large property management companies while others are a better fit for small short-term rental businesses. When choosing your property management system, bear in mind your business model and future plans.
Do you plan on growing your portfolio in the foreseeable future? Then you need a tool that’s able to grow with you. Don’t fall into the trap of choosing a solution that’s too rigid and inflexible because switching to a different tool will cause disruption to your business and require change management.
Keystone Awards winner
The VRMB’s Keystone Awards is built on feedback and input from thousands of vacation rental managers. It was established by Terry Whyte and Matt Landau with the goal of showcasing the best PMS software in the vacation rental industry. Although this shouldn’t be the key factor in your decision-making process, this recognition is a good indicator of how pleased property owners are with the tool.
The challenges of managing multiple vacation properties
As you grow your portfolio, vacation rental property management will get more complex. This is especially true if they’re scattered across different locations and if you’re managing remotely. You’ll need to make sure your team is handling their tasks properly, ensure that the units are cleaned after every check-out, that maintenance and repair work gets done, and that your staff creates a great guest experience. Here is a list of challenges that property owners with multiple units experience:
Communicating with guests can be very time consuming, especially when it comes to answering repetitive guest queries. If you fail to respond in a timely manner, you risk a bad review or poor guest experience. Your guests need to feel like they are well taken care of. If you manage multiple short-term rental properties, you need an effective solution that will allow you to scale guest communications.
Property owners also struggle with managing incoming leads, responding to leads, tracking who’s paid the security deposit, who’s signed the vacation rental agreement, etc. Accelerating your booking flow requires that you streamline your processes. This is how you’ll get a comprehensive bird’s-eye view of the pipeline and better control of all operations.
You need to do owner reports and accounts at the end of each quarter, which is a lot of work if you’re doing it manually. This is why you need a PMS that does this quickly and automatically. Property management software allows you to generate reports with a few clicks, analyze trends you normally wouldn’t notice, and improve your revenue management.
For vacation rental businesses, accounting isn’t always straightforward. You have to know how to analyze trends, make financial projections, properly track income and expenses, and calculate taxes. If you have growth on your roadmap, then you should consider investing in dynamic pricing tools and other tech that will help you efficiently manage your revenue.
Maintaining consistent quality is difficult when you have many properties to manage, especially if you’re doing it remotely. It’s a fact that all of your guests won’t have the same respect for your space, meaning there will be a broken item or two for your team to fix from time to time. You need an efficient PMS to keep track of everything that goes on.
Ensuring cleaning standards are met
Multiple properties means lots of cleaning between check-outs and check-ins and also mid-stay cleaning. You’ll need multiple cleaners to handle different locations. Provide them with the booking details and special requests made by the guest so the unit can be ready for check-in. If booking information changes, then you need to update the right cleaner at the right time, or re-arrange cleaners. A PMS helps you automate and assign these tasks and updates.
Efficiently managing staff
Hiring a team to help you run your business becomes essential the bigger you get. However, you can’t hire someone and just leave it to them to figure it out. You’ll need a way to monitor and manage every single section of the operations they’re responsible for, organize proper onboarding, and make sure each team member meets the required standards for excellent service. A good PMS helps you with the logistics and saves your staff a lot of time.
Keeping track of all the bookings
One of the major requirements of managing multiple vacation rentals is to have a clear visual overview of all the bookings from your different properties. Who booked their stay? When are they arriving? For how long will they stay? From which channel did the booking occur? At what rate? Any special requirements? Who’s handling the check-in? That’s a lot of questions. Using a PMS will help you centralize all your bookings into a single calendar.
Optimizing your listings
When you are using various booking channels, making changes to the content, photos, and pricing for each listing across multiple platforms gets hectic. Imagine logging in and out, updating the wrong listing, and just not having enough time to sit down and make all the necessary changes. With a PMS, you can integrate with all these channels and with one click, adjust all the listings. Using a channel manager allows you to have a multi-calendar view and work within a single platform.
Setting a viable pricing strategy
Doing research on competitors, the market, and seasonal changes gets more and more difficult as you add new properties to your portfolio. Dynamic pricing tools use complex algorithms to adjust your nightly rates automatically. This way you can maximize your profits without lifting a finger. PMS software that supports integrations with dynamic pricing tools can help you save both time and money.
|Did you know? Hostfully has created a comprehensive guide that provides vacation rental management tips for owners. Make sure to check it out!|
Key benefits of using a PMS
The main purpose of a vacation rental software is to streamline your day-to-day operations. Here are some of the key things a good PMS should help you achieve.
|Benefit||How a PMS helps|
|Better control over your business||Your property management software has integrations that help you manage everything from a single platform. If you choose a cloud-based solution, you’ll be able to access your software via both desktop and mobile devices.|
|Improve guest experience||Your PMS allows you to create a smooth booking process, automate guest communications, provide your guests with guidebooks, and more.|
|Contactless service||Minimize in-person touch points with guests, save time, and reduce staff workload by automating check-in and check-outs through your PMS.|
|Increase efficiency||Automate recurring tasks such as paying bills, receiving payments, employee management, property maintenance, task assignment, and more.|
|Easy access to business data||Eliminate the need for spreadsheets and manual work. Have all data available in your PMS. Do proper analysis, measure occupancy rates, manage revenue, understand your team’s productivity levels, and see how your guests are doing.|
|Minimize operational expenses||Increase employee productivity through MPS. Optimize everyone’s task load and identify potential bottlenecks with your PMS.|
|Increase revenue||The right PMS allows you to automate a variety of tasks which in return saves you a lot of money and resources. You can focus on scaling better, add new properties to your portfolio, and spend less time on managing daily tasks.|
What are the main features of vacation rental property management software?
Remember when we said you should distinguish between must-have and nice-to-have features? Below you can find the features every PMS should offer users even in basic plans.
The best property management platforms have integrated channel managers that help you find customers on external booking platforms and OTAs. This way you can easily broaden your booking channels to increase occupancy. Thanks to integrations with Airbnb, VRBO, and Booking.com, you can put your property on the radar of your potential guests, and increase revenue.
|Related post: Airbnb Management Software: Boost Your Bookings and Income|
Centralized view of all bookings
When guests can book across different platforms, your chances of a double booking increase. Good PMS tools adjust room availability on other platforms once an online reservation comes through. This helps you control your occupancy rate and easily assess the health of your business. With access to one central calendar, you can see which booking platforms perform the best.
|Did you know? Hostfully helps you increase your share of direct bookings with an easy pre-built booking website that shows availability and pricing.|
Properly communicating with guests is absolutely essential. However, it can also be time-consuming. Most PMS solutions have automated systems in place to make it easier to communicate with your guests. Hostfully offers two key features to help make your guest communication more efficient:
- Use autofill templates to answer and automate answering repetitive questions
- Use templates and triggers to send automatic emails with important information based on triggers before check in. Templates with dynamic fields help your messages look more personalized.
Your income statements should be one click away. Not only that, but your PMS should provide you with data that makes it simple to compare your performance against industry standards. Assess which properties perform the best, identify the most valuable distribution channels, compare lead conversion rates across different teams, and more.
As we mentioned earlier, many PMS platforms support a variety of integrations. However, not all do. If integrating with your favorite tools is important to you, make sure your PMS allows for it. There are certain workarounds like using Zapier. Of course, you can always check what the API capabilities are and discuss custom solutions.
Overview of advanced features vacation property software also offer
If you’re looking for more advanced features like full reservation systems or enhanced reporting, these are typically available at a higher cost within vacation rental management software. Below you can see the benefits of these features and evaluate whether you’re at the growth phase when you actually need them. The good news is that you can start with more basic features and easily upgrade your pricing plan later on.
Advanced PMS features might include:
- Automated reservation systems
- Customer data management
- Enhanced reporting
- Payment processing and integrations with leading payment software
- Upselling platform
Good news is that you can start with more basic features and easily upgrade your pricing plan later on. If you’re not sure about the value of these advanced features, take a look at Hostfully’s case study about how one vacation rental management company managed to upsell through guidebooks and elevate the guest experience at scale.
Are vacation rental PMS platforms expensive?
One concern new vacation rental owners have when learning how to manage multiple vacation rentals is the price of property management software.
Good quality property management systems cost upwards of $100 per month. This is a typical price for a property owner that has around half a dozen or fewer properties.
After that threshold, property management software systems usually increase in price, but they also offer more features. Most property owners who book more than one week a month will easily make their money back, so the ROI is generally good.
Make sure to see a PMS in action before buying
Last but not least, make sure to see your PMS in action before committing to buying it. You can do so by booking a demo with the software provider or by signing up for a free trial. Not only will this help you evaluate available features, but it will also give you an opportunity to test user experience and the flexibility of the tool.
To summarize, in order to choose the right PMS for your vacation rental, you need to:
- Evaluate PMS by looking at ten key elements (features, integrations, onboarding, training and support, pricing, flexibility, preferred partner status, scalability, whether or not the PMS is a Keystone Awards winner)
- Be aware of your growth trajectory, future plans, and challenges that come with managing multiple properties
- Understand the tangible business value of using a PMS
- Understand the difference between basic and advance features
- Take into account the recurring monthly expense of using a PMS (goes from $100 per month and up)
Frequently asked questions about the best way to choose a PMS for vacation rentals
What is a PMS channel manager?
A PMS helps you run your vacation rental business more efficiently and improve the guest experience. PMS channel managers are integrated within your property management software and they focus on distribution. Property owners can then monitor online bookings from a single place and prevent double bookings thanks to a multi-calendar view.
Why do you need a channel manager?
If you advertise for your vacation rental properties across multiple booking sites, you need a channel manager to prevent double bookings. A channel manager removes the hassle of managing online bookings manually, which is impossible if you have many several different properties.
How do I manage multiple Airbnb properties?
If you have a company with multiple properties that you want to list on Airbnb, you should create individual listings for each of your rentals under one account. If you have several different rooms, each room will have its own listing page and a booking calendar. Make sure that each listing states an accurate number of beds and amenities.
What’s the difference between a PMS and a channel manager?
A channel manager lets you list properties on multiple listing sites at once. The software synchronizes your calendars and prevents double bookings. A PMS centralizes all property management operations in a single platform, lets you automate repetitive tasks, and coordinates operations with other tools. For more information about the differences, check out our resource here.