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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Sure, there were already more than a few property management software solutions on the market, but they appeared outdated, hard to use, and not designed to handle the challenges that lay ahead given the trends we saw.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

myvr map view 01

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!

Skift || Here’s a First Look at the Expedia-HomeAway Vacation Rental Experiment

Expedia

After announcing a partnership late last year, Expedia and HomeAway have just launched a beta version of their combined vacation rental search.

The user experience is a little rough, explained Skift’s Dennis Schaal, saying that it “functions more like an advertising relationship would than a tightly integrated booking process.” He also notes, however, that these are only first steps; much will likely change as they gain information and feedback.

Poster for the United States Travel Bureau promoting tourism, showing two cowboys on horseback by stream near desert rock formation. Created for the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project, by Frank S. Nicholson, between 1936 and 1939. [PD] This picture is in the public domain.

Travel Daily News || Vacation rentals even more popular with U.S. travelers in 2014

A recent survey by TripAdvisor found that 52 percent of American travelers plan to stay at a vacation rental in 2014—up from 44 percent last year.

Where are they planning to go, what are they willing to spend, and what amenities are they looking for? Reporter Theodore Koumelis covers the survey’s highlights. Continue Reading…

Sydney Morning Herald || The hottest travel trend of 2014? We know everything about you

We’ve talked about different ways to connect with your guests and provide truly personal service, something vacation rental owners are in a great position to provide. But hotels are upping their game, too. In this article from Australia, industry executives say they’re focused on detailsfrom remembering a guest’s preferred room temperature to buying personalized gifts inspired by their social media posts.

Vacation Rental Marketing Blog || 4 vacation rental guru predictions for 2014

Will 2014 bring more competition or more opportunity for vacation rental owners? Likely a good dose of both, according to the four vacation rental pros interviewed for this predictions post. From new initiatives by big brands to the need for better systems and more comprehensive marketing, our industry is poised for significant growth and change over the next couple of years. Continue Reading…

Skift || HomeAway Sues Airbnb Over Use of Birdhouse Mark

Having long argued that Airbnb isn’t a competitor and operates in a different market, HomeAway is suing Airbnb over their use of a birdhouse in their latest national marketing campaign—something HomeAway says infringes on their trademark.  The battle between the two companies has seemed inevitable to many, and has certainly just increased a notch (or 10) with the news of the lawsuit.

Skift || Why Hotel Brands Should Care About Airbnb’s Disruption

"hotel" by Daniel Zedda on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Airbnb has made a significant dent in the hotel market, building on strengths that every vacation rental has—whether they use the rental site or not.

Vikram Singh of Skift says brand loyalty has lost its power; people care most about location, value and good reviews.

He also notes that transparency helps build trust and community: “The host is the brand, and you have access to him at every stage of your travel experience.” Continue Reading…

Guest post by Tyann Marcink

It was three weeks ago.

Well, maybe just two weeks—but it seems like an eternity.

No emails. No phone calls. Just a message from “Marie in NY” that was obviously a phishing attempt. Why haven’t the inquiries flooded in? How is it that a scammer found your property, but the legit folk seem to no longer be taking vacations?

"click" on flickr, by inna dee (CC BY 2.0)

After checking the number of views on the brand new listing, the realization hits: nobody is even clicking through to look at your property.

Take a deep breath. The travelers are there. They really, truly do want to find a vacation rental just like yours. But are you giving them a reason to click? Continue Reading…

"Travel Swag Bag Contents SXSWi" by Sheila Scarborough on flickr (CC BY 2.0)As a group, the preferences of travelers don’t change much from year to year. But they way they do their research and bookings—and the opportunities you have to connect with them—does.

Following up on a survey conducted last year, Google recently released “The 2013 Traveler“, a report that doesn’t offer shocking revelations but emphasizes that if you’ve held off on taking control of your vacation rental marketing, now is the time to do it. Continue Reading…

Review Part 1, Part 2  || 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 three of three.Before you can truly focus on service, you need to make sure the business side of things is streamlined and running smoothly.

Once you’ve nailed your basic business processes, however, it’s time to step up your service game. This is where hotels really take the lead, and by following these steps, you can, too.

Concierge Services and Experience:

Your guests’ experience really starts before they even email or call to learn more about your property. In fact, it starts with your brand and how your listings are written.

What vibes is your property giving off? Continue Reading…

You have your vacation rental website, Facebook Page, listings on several different sites — and feedback from different people on each one. Your new challenge is to bring reviews from all these disparate sites and link them all together.

Why copy-and-paste is not the answer

Copying a review from a site and adding it to your own website is the easy solution, but it’s not necessarily the most legal option. Your safest bet is to always contact the reviewer directly to get their permission.

Online copyright can be confusing or subjective at the best of times, not least because different websites have different terms and conditions.

HomeAway.com, for example, holds a non-exclusive license over user-generated content on its site — which includes your property information as well as any submitted reviews.

As interpreted by ezine WritersWeekly, a non-exclusive license means “the reviewer can publish their review at any other site they choose and they can also give permission to someone else…to re-publish their review.”

Continue Reading…


Craigslist is an advertising opportunity that vacation rental owners seem to love or hate — and sometimes both. But there’s no denying it can generate inquiries.

Let’s start with positives

  1. It’s massive. In fact, it’s the eighth most visited website in the U.S.; One in every five Americans uses Craigslist each month.
  2. It’s free. That’s the main reason I encourage homeowners and managers to at least give it a try — there’s little to lose and, potentially, a lot to gain.