Every short term property manager, once they start to manage more than just a couple properties, should look at implementing a PMS — or property management software. Why? They help managers automate tasks like scheduling cleaners, sending check-in and checkout messages, and ensuring that calendars are synced across multiple OTAs (online travel agencies, like Airbnb and VRBO).
With only three properties to manage earlier this year, I started with Your Porter. While it did help with automated messaging and cleaner notifications, it failed to alert cleaners to altered or cancelled reservations, which is guaranteed to lead to operational challenges. At only $8/mo per property, though, it’s very affordable.
SmartBnb, now known as Hospitable.com, improves on Your Porter by ensuring that housekeepers are notified of cancelled and altered bookings. It’s $9/mo per property, with a minimum of two listings ($18/mo).
I used Smartbnb to scale from three to eleven properties, and then started to hit bottlenecks. While Smartbnb is evolving quickly, their software is somewhat limited. There are no financial reports, which means I need to create invoices manually. And while they have API connections with Airbnb, VRBO, and Booking.com, they don’t have a content API, which means that if you want to make a change to your photos or listing details, you have to do that manually on all three platforms. That’s like managing three listings per property, or with 11 properties under management, 33 listings. Anyone tired yet?
I looked at several different PMS solutions in an effort to solve my problems, including Tokeet, OwnerRez, and FutureStay before finding Hostaway. In my demo with AJ, I was assured that Hostaway did everything that Smartbnb did, and more, including automated invoicing and content API connections with not only Airbnb, VRBO, and Booking.com — but also Expedia and TripAdvisor.
Implementation was a different story. Our implementation “specialist” was in Sri Lanka and had such a poor internet connection that he spent half of our implementation time saying: “hello? hello?” and “scroll down, scroll down” because his browser was frozen and couldn’t see what we were doing.
During implementation, he failed to ask important questions, like whether we had any parent-child listings, and failed to tell us other important things, like how the API key phrase for SmartLabs would only be visible once, which meant we had to recreate our pricing rules twice rather than once. When we raised concerns about calendar syncs or cleaner notifications, he brushed our concerns off and told us everything would be fine.
We got double bookings because their calendar sync didn’t work for parent-child listings; and syncing with VRBO and Booking.com was so involved that it required reaching out to their respective support teams in order to kick off a 1-3 week process. Their iCal only connection didn’t prevent double bookings because they only refreshed every 24 hours.
Our cleaners failed to show up because Hostaway’s software doesn’t allow for notifications to go out to teammates; and our housekeepers were unable to login to the Hostaway app to check the calendar themselves. We got calls from guests reporting that they had arrived to dirty units. Within the span of only a few days, I had to unwind three double bookings and issue over $500 in guest refunds due to the issues Hostaway’s software caused and that their implementation specialist told us not to worry about.
As for that automated invoicing I wanted? I still had to produce my invoices manually, and the information that I needed to do so was not displayed any more conveniently in Hostaway than it had been in Smartbnb. And that content API? The only content that Hostaway could push from their platform to Booking.com was the listing title and the description; all other information needed to be populated in Booking.com listings manually.
After one week of trying to square peg and round hole Hostaway’s $40/mo per property software, I made the tough decision to switch back to Smartbnb. While this was a painful lesson that ended up costing my business over $1000 in implementation and subscription fees plus guest refunds, I’m delighted to take my business back to Smartbnb. They’ve got incredible customer service and regularly introduce meaningful improvements to their software.
For now, I’ll continue to create my invoices manually and will need to maintain multiple listings per property — but I’ll be doing so knowing that my core operations are taken care of and that I have a PMS team on my side. As I made the transition back to my old PMS today, I reached out to Smartbnb’s support team through their chat. They responded within 5 minutes and stayed on the line with me while I got things back up and running and asked if I needed any more help and meant it.
Hostaway? As I was in the process of deleting out the listings I had successfully transferred over to Smartbnb, they froze my account. I wrote to support. Twelve hours later, I haven’t heard a word back.