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It’s hard to believe 2016 is coming to an end already, and it’s even harder to believe it’s been 6 years since we founded MyVR!

A LOOK BACK… WE GOT A FEW THINGS RIGHT
Mike, Markus and I were recently reflecting on why we started MyVR and were pleased to see how many of the hypotheses we had about the vacation rental (VR) industry back in 2010 were finally ringing true. We believed:

  • VR’s were poised to ‘go mainstream’ and see increased adoption and usage
  • marketing VR’s would expand from one channel (VRBO) to many (Airbnb, OTA’s, etc)
  • channels would place a greater emphasis on inventory ‘quality’ (e.g. responsiveness, availability accuracy, conversion rate, stay experience)
  • bookings and payments would move from almost entirely offline, manual, and laborious to online, automated, and even instant
  • VR managers would need software to thrive survive in this new world

Sure, there were already more than a few property management software solutions on the market, but they appeared outdated, hard to use, and not designed to handle the challenges that lay ahead given the trends we saw. So, we set out to build modern management software with a focus on design, usability, and connectivity. We also aimed to make software more accessible for smaller property managers and owners – both of whom appeared neglected by the legacy software providers.

… AND A FEW THINGS… NOT SO MUCH!
If it sounds like we’re patting ourselves on the back too much, let us also share some things we got wrong! We’ve definitely learned a lot in working with thousands of owners and property managers. Most notably, we underestimated:

  • the number of features we’d have to build for customers to run their businesses on our software
  • the challenges involved with getting smaller users, often technologically unsophisticated, up and running successfully on our software quickly and efficiently
  • the support expectations of these smaller users (thoroughness, response time, availability) and the challenge with solving those in a scalable and cost-effective way
  • the price sensitivity of many users, even with what we thought were clear benefits of bookings growth, time-savings, increased professionalism, and error-reduction

This isn’t our first startup, so we knew coming in that nothing ever comes without a lot of hard work and determination. While we thought early on that delivering the sheer number of features that customers wanted would be the biggest challenge we faced, we now believe that effectively onboarding, training, and supporting customers is an even bigger challenge, and potentially even more important to the success of MyVR and our customers.

It’s clear, given the current industry trends outlined above, that our solution is needed now more than ever, and we’re excited to have achieved so much towards these product and support goals throughout 2016.

MAJOR ACHIEVEMENTS IN 2016
2016 was a solid year for MyVR. We completed numerous platform improvements aimed at helping our users achieve greater success, including:

  • More channel integrations: Airbnb and Booking.com
  • Better tools for maintaining your website
  • Automation enhancements
  • Other software enhancements: inquiry routing, reporting, and more
  • Expanded support infrastructure
  • Product redesign and new plans
  • New pricing approach

More channel integrations: Airbnb and Booking.com
Our integrations this year with Airbnb and Booking.com have rounded out our channel management offering, which already includes HomeAway/VRBO and TripAdvisor/Flipkey. These critical partnerships have been years in the making, and allow for a much deeper connection than the periodic calendar-only sync available via iCal.

We’re also proud to connected you with these channels directly – meaning we connect you to the channels without a third party channel manager. This keeps the complexity of integrating, as well as the costs, to a minimum.

Better tools for maintaining your website
This past year also saw a significant revamp of our website builder. In addition to launching a dozen new templates, we launched a new ‘simple content editor’ (to complement our more advanced drag and drop page layout editor) to make it quicker and easier to make simpler content changes. We’ve also made it easier to integrate with existing third party websites, or to build entirely new custom websites that are integrated with your MyVR software.

Automation enhancements
Our automation tools benefited from several targeted improvements, including increased visibility into emails we send for you, time-of-day scheduling of ‘Stay Emails’, and the ability to choose whether to queue automated emails for manual review/sending or automatic sending on their due date.

Other software enhancements: inquiry routing, reporting, and more
MyVR’s inquiry assignment, routing, and notification options were vastly improved in 2016 – particularly helpful for users with more than one rep, or those who have various notifications they need sent to third parties throughout the rental lifecycle. Other improvements were made throughout the product to areas such as booking policy setup and reservation processing, and we launched our first Reporting & Analytics module (please send feedback!).

Expanded support infrastructure
Our support infrastructure was probably the area of our platform that saw the largest improvement in 2016. We want our customers to be up-and-running as soon as possible, and we’ve learned that a bigger product means a bigger need for support.

We’ve added dozens of product tutorial videos, with more on the way. We created our first downloadable user manual to help walk you through the setup process. We launched a Community Forum to make standard Q&As easier to find, and to get you answers faster, with access not just to the MyVR team but to other users as well.

Through our new services offering, you can now get referrals to professionals who can offer assistance such as data importation, 1:1 training, SEO help, as well as website design and development—whatever you need to get the most from technology and optimize your business.

Many of our plans also now come with some setup and training services included, and additional options can be purchased a la carte via our new services offering!

Product redesign and new plans
After focusing the last 4+ years on developing features, including the many additions mentioned above from 2016, it became necessary to package and sell our now (extremely) robust set of features differently. You may have noticed that our marketing website reflects that MyVR now offers three products: Software, an App Marketplace, and a Services Marketplace.

We moved all third party integrations (like HomeAway, Stripe, Mailchimp, etc) and optional add-ons (like websites) to this new App Marketplace. We’ve also created this new Services Marketplace to organize the many services that we now offer, and we expect both of these marketplaces to see many great additions in 2017. Lastly, we organized the software itself into major functional modules, and have redesigned our product navigation around these.

Given the evolution of the product, we also needed to create a set of new plans (three property manager plans, and two owner plans) to better customize our offering to different clients with differing needs and budgets, and help them understand what they get with each plan level. We released these new plans to new customers a few weeks ago (and stopped offering the prior ones when we did that).

New pricing
Because the product has evolved so much over these past 4 years of feature build-out, we raised subscription prices for new users signing up for these new plans. We’ve also changed the way we charge for certain add-ons, e.g. channel management, which now incorporates a 1.49% booking fee (vs the 3% to 7% typically charged by third party channel managers). Lastly, we’ve also moved to a new fee structure for credit card processing that utilizes volume tiers (rates start at ~2.99% in for the US, and decreases with increasing client volume).

We were overdue for these changes – most of our customers were on a pricing plan that was designed in early 2013, when we had a very small fraction of the platform capabilities what we have now, and we hadn’t been adjusting prices upward all that time as we made the product better. We’re continuing to honor the legacy plan you signed up for, so if you’ve been satisfied with the product, this recent price adjustment need not have any impact on you.

(NOTE: Some users on legacy plans have inquired about converting to one of our newer plans. Sit tight… we have a separate email coming on that within a few days.)

A LOOK AHEAD TO 2017
We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished to date – but it’s clear our job is far from over! Through our recent customer survey, we gained an updated view of what’s currently most important to you and how we should prioritize our efforts going forward.

One key investment we made in 2016 that we didn’t mention above (and haven’t talked about much) was the release of a Developer Portal with a robust set of APIs – something that will allow for greater connectivity with our software. We realize that’s pretty technical for most users, and the sound of “APIs” might not get you super excited, but you’ll appreciate what APIs will let you do!

In the short term, the APIs give larger customers better access to their data and allow them to build custom technology on top of MyVR’s software. Longer term, APIs add functionality for our users by letting third party software developers integrate their products and services with MyVR’s software. For example, our APIs are already being used for things like building custom websites and enabling yield management companies to optimize rental rates for our clients. Going forward, APIs will enable MyVR to bring greater choice in features and services to our clients via third party apps and services, and these will be made available to users via our App and Services Marketplaces.

We’re excited to close out 2016 with a bang and have an exciting roadmap developing for 2017!

Thanks for your continued support,
Jonathan and the MyVR Team

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We have had a busy fall and have launched several new features that you’ve asked for – we hope you love them!

Here’s a brief summary:

Automated check-in & check-out emails – you can now send automated emails triggered by a set number of days before or after check-in date, check-out date, or the midpoint of a renter’s stay.

Inbox improvements- we made a few improvements to our messaging interface, including:

  • attachments – send and receive attachments in your MyVR inbox
  • cc/bcc support – send or receive emails with cc’s and bcc’s
  • subject controls – we give you more control over the subject line of each message you send, including the ability to change the subject during a conversation
  • message delivery & open notifications – we now show you data around whether your message to a renter is known to have been delivered and opened

Multi-property maps – for clients with a multi-property website, you now have the option to add a ‘map view’ to your website to show the locations of your various properties.

Email design controls – we’ve exposed some simple design tools so you can better match the look and feel of emails we send on your behalf, so that they can include your own logo and colors.

Transactional emails controls – we send a number of transactional emails on your behalf (e.g. reservation confirmation emails, payment reminders, etc).  We now expose these templates to you so you can see what’s being sent, we give you the ability to customize these messages, and we warn you when we’re sending them.

Booking & calendar widgets – if you have a 3rd party website managed outside of MyVR, you can now embed your centralized MyVR calendar onto that website, and you can add online bookings to your website with MyVR’s mobile-responsive booking flow widget!

New custom fields – add custom fields to your property data for fields you use often (driving directions, a PDF home manual, etc) and then automatically populate these on your website, automated email communications, and more!  You no longer need to customize certain web pages or automated emails by property!

New channel management offerings – we are excited to announce a significantly revamped channel management offering, providing centralized management of listings on HomeAway, VRBO, VacationRentals.com, TripAdvisor, and Flipkey:

  • HomeAway for Property Managers - we have re-launched our channel management offering with HomeAway (with 5+ properties), and have added support for online booking and pay-per-booking, in addition to our standard inquiry-based subscription listings
  • HomeAway for Owners - we have also added a lighter weight version of channel management with HomeAway for owners (with under 5 properties) so you can also benefit from the automation that channel management can provide!
  • TripAdvisor / FlipKey for Property Managers - we have re-launched our channel management offering with TripAdvisor (with 5+ properties) and can support subscription, pay-per-lead, and pay-per-booking.
  • TripAdvisor / FlipKey for Owners - we have also added a lighter weight version of channel management with TripAdvisor for owners (with under 5 properties) so you can also benefit from the automation that channel management can provide! Our TripAdvisor for Owners offering supports inquiry-based subscription listings (without a booking commission) and you always receive the renter’s contact information.

 

Please let us know what you think, and also what other features you want us to work on by clicking on the “Suggestions” tab at the bottom of the MyVR dashboard when you’re logged in!

Hey everyone!  We sent out an email to customers last week on some amazing new features, so I thought I’d post on the blog to share with our other followers.

Here’s the email:Renter Booking Page

 

Hey all,

Just a quick note to let you know about some REALLY powerful stuff we released last week.  Possibly the best improvements to our product that we’ve released to date.

MyVR is quickly becoming the most powerful reservation software in the vacation rental industry, allowing you to automate your operations and make fewer errors (like expensive double bookings or lost payments).

As you may recall, we had already invested significantly in our reservations software, with pretty major improvements launching earlier this year in July andSeptember.  Last week’s is even more powerful.  Watch Markus’ short video on our latest improvement, Booking Policies, and you’ll see why that’s the case!

With last week’s release, we created a way for you to set up a default Booking Policy, which represents the way you typically like to configure bookings.  A Booking Policy can be applied to instant bookings from your website or integrated channels, and can also be used as the ‘starting point’ for any manual quotes you send, so that you don’t need to configure each one individually (you can still modify any quote from your default settings before sending).

A Booking Policy will define things such as:

  • the refund/cancellation policy you typically use (now with the ability to custom build your own!)
  • the payment schedule you typically use (now with the ability to custom build your own!)
  • whether or not to allow the renter to agree to terms online, and if so, which contract to use
  • whether or not to accept online payments, and if so, which merchant account to use
  • whether or not you want to automatically process future payments on their due date, or have the renter send them manually
  • the quote expiration period applied to each quote, if any
  • whether to automatically accept instant bookings, or hold them for manual review and approval
  • whether or not to block off the dates when you get an instant booking request
  • whether or not to collect the renter’s mailing address during the booking process
  • when to move a booking to a final ‘reserved state’ (e.g. contract signed, first payment made, payment made in full)
  • and much more!!

Everything you set up in a Booking Policy becomes your default. You can set up a Booking Policy to apply across many properties, and you can set up several Booking Policies and assign them to properties or property groups as you see fit.

Want to learn more?  Please check out the following:

Stay tuned for upgrades to our automated communications and a relaunching of our channel management in the coming weeks.

Thanks!
Jonathan

p.s. Send me your feedback after you’ve reviewed our latest release.  What are we missing in our reservations product?  Please use the “Suggestions” tab at the bottom of your screen when you are logged into your MyVR dashboard.

This topic recently came up in Matt Landau’s Inner Circle forum, and these two posts are based on information I shared there. If you aren’t already participating, check out the Inner Circle forum or connect with Matt Landau’s Vacation Rental Marketing blog.

In my last post, I called autoresponders “the secret weapon most vacation rental owners ignore,” explaining that adding them can save time, improve professionalism, and increase conversion rates.

As an owner, I like to know that every inquiry gets a response — even those that aren’t likely to convert because they fall outside my renter criteria. You can spend a lot of time responding individually to people who aren’t a good fit for your property, or you can use autoresponders to free up that energy so you can focus on your actual guests.

Continue Reading…

I posted about this recently in Matt Landau’s Inner Circle forum. It’s been a while since I blogged about autoresponders, a tool many owners still aren’t taking advantage of, so I wanted to share the information with you here. If you aren’t already participating, check out the Inner Circle forum or connect with Matt Landau’s Vacation Rental Marketing blog.

"welcome" written with magnets, photo by Christian Schnettelker (CC BY 2.0)Done well, with some fine-tuning, using autoresponders in my vacation rental business have helped me capture more bookings, cut demands on my time, and build better relationships with my guests.

Inquiry autoresponders are messages that send automatically and immediately when someone sends a new rental inquiry. Some owners choose not to use autoresponders, but many don’t realize they’re even an option.

Here are seven reasons why I think every owner should include autoresponders in their booking process.

Continue Reading…

Want to save money, save time, be more organized and look more professional when it comes to managing your vacation rental property? The MyVR team has been busy building great new features — it’s like spring cleaning for your property management to do list.

Continue Reading…

"Oak Terrace Preserve's Walkable Neighborhoods" on Flickr by North Charleston (CC BY-SA 2.0)Referrals are a common way for businesses to grow, and rent-by-owners (RBOs) aren’t any different; you likely already know that word-of-mouth marketing from happy guests can be one of your most powerful assets.

But what about referrals from other businesses — and other vacation rental owners in particular. Is it weird to get referrals from your competitors, or is it a potential source for new bookings that you’ve overlooked?

Continue Reading…

They’re familiar, easily available, require little-if-any overhead, and are almost as good as cash when it comes to the hands-on satisfaction of having money in your pocket. But if your vacation rental is still dealing with checks, are you leaving yourself exposed?

"Check Writing" on flickr, by David Goehring (CC BY 2.0)Beyond the fact that travelers strongly prefer to use credit cards, many vacation rental owners have run their businesses using checks for years with no problem.

But as the more unfortunate will tell you, it only takes once. Beyond the misrepresentation of using a lost or stolen checkbook, checks are vulnerable to counterfeiting, alteration and forgery. There’s also the risk of a bounced check – a potentially costly situation, even when it’s not maliciously done. Continue Reading…

Review Part 1 || Guest post by Tyler Gillespie

In a recent post on his blog, Tyler Gillespie of VacationRentalBusiness.net challenged vacation rental owners to “hotelize” their businesses. In this three-part series for MyVR, he explains why it matters, how to do it, and what you can do to bring your guest services to the next level. This is part two of three.Families have started to make the switch from hotels to vacation rentals, and why not? Vacation rentals have a lot going for them!

Unfortunately, we also have one big self-defeating problem: Inconsistency. That’s why I believe that a key part of your focus – this year and in future – should be on streamlining operations to become more professional. Much like a hotel.

Whether you manage your rental business on a part or full-time basis, here is my advice to kickstart the “hotelization” of your vacation rental property by zeroing in on the things that will keep your business running smoothly. Continue Reading…

"Summer time (Algarve)" by Tiago Fernandes (CC BY 2.0)If you enjoyed a brisk business this summer, you’re not alone; a recent report from HomeAway shows a vast majority of owners (86 percent) enjoyed vacation rental bookings that were the same or better than last summer.

Highlighted in HomeAway Vacation Rental Report: Owner Edition, these numbers reflect the niche that vacation rental properties are carving in the travel industry.

Among owners who see summer as peak season, occupancy rates averaged 77 percent – higher than the 70 percent average occupancy rate reported by U.S. hotels (a slight increase over last year). Continue Reading…