If you’ve been managing a rental property for a while, you must have come across the terms “PMS” and “channel manager”. You may also know that they refer to the two main types of software that short-term rental hosts use to save time and run their businesses efficiently.

But what exactly does a PMS do? What are the benefits of using a channel manager? And what’s the difference between the two?

In this blog post, we’ll clear up all the confusion surrounding these two essential tools. We’ll explain how each of them works and give you pointers on which one you need to automate your Airbnb rental business. 

Looking for an easy-to-use tool that has the functionalities of both a PMS and a channel manager? Try Host Tools now – it’s free for 30 days. 

What is a PMS?

A PMS or property management system is a piece of software that allows short-term rental hosts to efficiently manage the day-to-day operations of their business. A PMS essentially replaces the pen-and-paper method of property management and goes beyond spreadsheets to streamline operational workflows and automate repetitive tasks. 

Here are some of the things you can do with a PMS:

  • Accept bookings and payments through an online booking engine.

  • Schedule cleanings and manage housekeeping/maintenance tasks.

  • Send and receive guest messages through a unified inbox.

  • View and manage all your reservations in a centralized calendar.

  • Use accounting and invoicing tools to simplify your finances.

  • Build a vacation rental website using a website builder tool.

  • Access performance analytics and insights to improve your listings.

  • Use pricing and revenue management tools to optimize your rates. 

The variety of features a PMS offers depends on the provider. For example, while one PMS may have an accounting functionality, others may not. 

In addition, some property management systems have marketing functionalities and connect directly with online sales channels (booking sites such as Airbnb or Vrbo). However, the tools that specialize in this are called channel managers.

What is a channel manager?

A channel manager is a tool that lets short-term rental hosts automate the distribution of their listings on multiple booking sites. As opposed to a PMS, a channel manager is a marketing tool instead of an operational tool. It’s essential for building a multi-channel distribution strategy for vacation rentals

Here’s what you can do with a channel manager:

  • Manage all your listings – whether they’re on Airbnb, Vrbo, or other booking sites – from a single dashboard, without having to log in to all your accounts separately.

  • Keep your channel calendars up-to-date and sync your availability in real-time to avoid double bookings

  • Push your nightly rates to all your connected channels without having to set them up in all your accounts one-by-one.

  • Minimize the risk of human error by automating the distribution of your listings instead of relying on manual updates. 

Just like property management systems, not all channel managers are created equal. Some give you access to additional tools – such as pricing software – others don’t. Some connect to a handful of distribution channels, others connect to over a hundred different booking sites. Which one you choose will depend on the size and needs of your short-term rental business. 

If you’d like to compare the top channel management providers side-by-side, check out our 2021 list of Airbnb channel managers.  

Preview of Host Tools multi-calendar.

This is a preview of the multi-calendar in the Host Tools channel manager, showing bookings from Airbnb and Houfy.

How do channel managers work?

Before we move on, let’s talk about how channel managers work. It’s important to understand this so you can decide whether such a tool can add value to your business.

Channel managers connect to OTAs (online travel agencies) like Airbnb and Vrbo through API integrations. APIs are what allow channel managers to seamlessly communicate with booking sites, and instantly update all channel calendars whenever there’s a change in availability. 

For example, when you get a booking on Airbnb, the channel manager will automatically update your calendar on Vrbo and block out the dates that have been booked. This way, you can avoid two guests booking your rental for the same dates on two different booking channels – which would result in costly overbookings. 

Image explaining how a channel manager works

Besides APIs, channel managers can also use iCal connections to connect to channels. These are less reliable because they don’t provide instant updates. Sometimes, it can take up to a few hours for an iCal sync to take effect. In the meantime, you’re open to getting double bookings.

It’s important to note that some channel managers use a combination of API and iCal connectivity. For example, they may use APIs to connect to major booking sites like Airbnb and Vrbo and allow you to import other calendars – like those of your own website or another channel like Booking.com, Expedia, Tripadvisor, or Agoda – via iCal. 

This is a good solution if you receive most of your bookings from the big online channels and supplement them with bookings from other sources.

What’s the difference between a PMS and a channel manager?

From the above, it’s clear that while a PMS focuses on automating operational tasks and streamlining workflows, a channel manager serves to automate the online distribution of your listings and keep your channel calendars updated. The difference between the two has to do with their focus and the suite of tools they provide. 

PMS and channel manager: Which one do you need?

Now that you know what the difference is between a PMS and a channel manager, the question that’s left to answer is: Which one do you need? 

Oftentimes, professional short-term rental managers use a channel manager and a PMS together, connected by an API connection. This allows them to seamlessly link their software tools and use one, integrated system to manage the different aspects of their business. This is the most efficient way to work for property management companies with hundreds of listings. 

For short-term rental hosts with a handful of properties, such a system would be too time-consuming, expensive, and complicated to set up. For them, the best choice is an all-in-one vacation rental software that has the essential functionalities of a PMS and a channel manager.

In the next section, we’ll tell you about Host Tools, a budget-friendly all-in-one platform that has all the vacation rental host tools you could possibly need to cover your operational and marketing needs. 

Host Tools: an all-in-one tool for short-term rental hosts

Host Tools is an affordable, easy-to-use automation tool and channel manager for vacation rental hosts.

I built it so that hosts with one to a handful of listings – like myself – could have access to a suite of sophisticated tools to efficiently manage their rentals without breaking the bank.

With Host Tools, you can win back your free time and spend it with your family and friends instead of wasting it on repetitive tasks that could easily be automated. 

You can also increase your efficiency as a host, which allows you to focus on more important things like finding new investment properties. In the long run, a higher level of efficiency translates into greater profits – and that’s what we all want from our businesses.

So, what can Host Tools do for you?

  • Keep your pricing and availability calendars up-to-date on all the channels you advertise on. The Host Tools channel manager has API integrations with Airbnb, Vrbo, and Houfy. Plus, it lets you add any other channels via iCal. Syncing your calendars guarantees that guests always see your accurate availability, which helps you increase your occupancy and bookings. 
  • Save time on guest communication by automating your messages and reviews. Host Tools automated messages are easy to set up using Airbnb message templates. They help you maintain a high response rate and get you closer to becoming an Airbnb Superhost
  • Schedule your cleanings in an efficient and error-free way by automatically sending text messages to your housekeeping team when a booking is confirmed or a guest checks out.
03 Cleaner notification message flow on Host Tools

This is what a cleaner notification message flow looks like in Host Tools once you set it up.

  • Say goodbye to in-person meet-and-greets and boost your guest experience with Airbnb self check-in. Host Tools supports smart locks and automatically sends unique access codes to your guests so you don’t need to greet them at the property. 

  • Start taking commission-free direct bookings on your website. Host Tools integrates with Houfy, a booking platform that takes no commissions and allows you to build a vacation rental website from scratch.

  • Optimize your pricing strategies and get the most out of every booked night with our advanced but easy-to-use Airbnb pricing tool. Never leave a dime on the table with the Host Tools rule-based smart pricing engine.

Host Tools pricing calendar

This is a preview of the Host Tools smart pricing tool where you can define pricing rules that stack on top of each other, and see which rules have been applied to your listing on any given day.

As you can see, Host Tools has a wide range of features that cover all the needs of a short-term rental host. All for just $5.00 per listing per month.

Try Host Tools now – it’s free for 30 days.

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