What is a “Channel Manager”?

There are dozens of web-based services for managing Airbnb, HomeAway/VRBO, Booking.com, and all of the other short-term rental sites. (Actually most of them just manage Airbnb plus maybe one of the other major platforms.)

They all claim to be a “channel manager”. This term is hopelessly, meaninglessly vague. And yet the marketing materials all just say, “It’s a Channel Manager! Pay upfront for a year!”

I did a web-based demo last night and I asked directly, “I don’t know what a Channel Manager is. What is it, exactly?” And I got this completely meaningless, completely unhelpful response:

Well, the Channel Manager handles all of the connections to the booking platforms.

I wanted to scream. What exactly flows across this connection? Because it really matters. Here’s an inside guide:

Rudimentary Channel Managers

The basic capability is calendar synchronization. Yep, that’s it. And that’s all that some products do in this category. When one platform gets a booking, they see it (hopefully quickly) and they block out those nights on all of the other platforms (also hopefully quickly). This prevents double-booking.

Another fairly basic capability is consolidating messages. This is also called “unified inbox”. When guests on any platform send you a message, the channel manager grabs the message and imports it. This allows you to read and respond to all of the messages in one place.

Of course, you can read and respond to all of your message right from your email box, and that’s just one place. Typically a “unified inbox” will also display the booking details and will display the messages in a nicely formatted manner.

More Advanced Channel Manager Features

Here are capabilities that most “Channel Managers” don’t implement, but some do:

  • Pushing prices to each platform
  • Pushing minimum and maximum stays to each platform
  • Pushing listing descriptions to each platform
  • Pushing photos to each platform

What is a PMS?

Well, as the salesguy helpfully explained:

It’s the meat and potatoes of the system. It’s where you manage everything about your property.

I haven’t figured this one out yet. I’ll keep you posted.

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