Picture this! You’re right in the middle of your busy season with your vacation rental. Between this month and the next, you have 23 different guests checking in/out on multiple hosting platforms.  Some are staying for just one evening; while, others are going to stay a week.   Each of these guests needs door codes and welcome packets. They will need reviews and cleanings after they stay.  Did you remember to get signed contracts with the names of each individual from each of them? How about notifying the cleaning company and front desk of the new reservations?  Did I mention you had two cancellations? So, you have to undo the scheduled cleaning, door codes, and front desk reservation for them.   Yikes! This was my May and June schedule this year.  This is why you need guest management systems/software.

What is a system

A system is any process you put into place.  Your morning routine is a system of how you get out of bed and off to work.  If you search for systems and system management on the internet, you will find many different terms: process flow, workflow management, to-do lists, checklists, and systems engineering.  It is all about putting in place processes that keep you from making mistakes.  Pre-Keurig era, have you ever made a pot of coffee and forgot to put new grounds in the maker?  I have.  Obviously, a system or a checklist would prevent this.  Is it essential? No.  On the other hand, what if you were getting on a commercial flight and the pilot said we would wing it today?  Also, no.  Systems are necessary when the task is sufficiently complex to need a set process to ensure an outcome.  This is why that process is called the systematic way of doing it.   I argue that guest management is complex enough to need a system in place for it.  It is important that Vacation/Short term rentals are actually a service industry; read more here!

Your first guest management system

The great news is that you already have a system in place if you have a vacation rental.  It is called the paper/digital calendar.  Easy enough, you write down the check-in/out dates.  If someone cancels, you erase them off the calendar.  Then, we expand it a little.  We start writing down the guest reservation number, door codes, cleaning confirmation, etc., in the little calendar squares.  After a while, this non-automated system starts to have problems.  For instance, it doesn’t set reminders to send out welcome packets or automatically count reservations. On the other hand, you can add checklists and use various digital apps to approximate a guest management system.  Ultimately, it will be easier to upgrade to a purpose-built system.

What to look for in a guest management system

Here are some things I find helpful to track with guests.  Let’s start with the obvious; you will want to track the guest’s name, reservation platform(Airbnb, etc.), reservation number, amount of the reservation, check-in/out dates, etc.  Next, depending on your situation, you will want to track door codes given out, the date when the guest made the reservation, and any confirmation codes with the cleaning service/front desk.  You will also want to have a notes section that can capture conversations that you may have had with the guests.  Finally, you will want to track key status flags with the reservation, for example,  reservation active or reservation canceled.   We track some of the statuses we track include cleaning scheduled, final payment made, a welcome packet sent, a rental contract sent/returned, condo left dirty, front desk scheduled, and invoices/bills added to our accounting system.

Guest Management Automation

It is also very handing to have automation built in that sets checklists and reminders for you.  Our system sets tasks for individual users on the steps needed.  We have multiple people handling a single reservation, so keeping everyone on the same page is important.  For instance, the system sets a task for accounting to add the invoice and appropriate bills into the accounting software, a task for guest management to send out a welcome packet two weeks before guests arrive, and schedule the cleaning after departure.  Each user gets a combined list of all their tasks for the various reservations.  This way, nothing falls through the cracks, and we can check to make sure there are no issues. For example, just today, the air conditioner broke during a guest’s stay.  So in the software for that guest’s reservation, there is a note stating the AC broke for 1 day, and we gave a partial refund.  I know that some of this is redundant with capabilities on hosting sites like Airbnb/VRBO; but, it is super handy to have all of your reservations in one spot.

Our preferred guest management system

There are many management systems out there for short-term/vacation rentals.  If you search on the internet, you will find software like Lodgify or Guesty.  I prefer to use a general workflow management software called Podio.  I don’t get paid to promote Podio; I love their software and customer service.

In Podio, you can customize your own apps or find others pre-built for you for free.  I am not going to go into the whole setup of Podio for guest management in this post.  Not that it is complicated, but it is lengthy.  Sign up for our newsletter to get a detailed description of how to build your own guest management app.  The best part of Podio is that the basic features are free for up to five employees with no limit on the number of records.  For most folks, this will be enough.    For me, I have a multi-user premium account…That I pay full price for :>  I use the premium because I have multiple people running various aspects of the business.  The premium allows me to automate my workflows and automatically task people, as mentioned above.   

How to start setting up Guest Management in Podio

First, You can create an app that tracks your guests.  The editor will ask for the name of the app and the name of an item tracked.  The following example is just one way of setting up guest management.  For example, your app may be called “Guest Management,” and the item tracked would be “Reservation.”   The next screen is a drag-and-drop editor.   You can drag fields over to your form.  For instance, you would want to drag a text box called “Guest Name” to capture the name. Next, the editor has dates, numbers, phone, emails, location, and category fields.  You would use the category field to track status like the key code sent.  

I highly recommend you try out the free version or request a demo.  If all of this sounds overwhelming, then you can always try out a pre-built guest management system.  The pre-build systems run between $10-$50+/month, depending on the features you want.  It comes down to convenience vs. cost.  If you can work well with software like Microsoft Excel, or Google Contacts, you should be able to build a working system in a couple of hours.  The nice part is that you can always go back and add automation, complexity, or upgrade to new features for a price, as necessary.  As a side note, I even have a separate Podio app/module to track my blog posts.

Summary

Guest management software will be key in keeping your operation running smoothly.  There is nothing wrong with starting with a paper calendar; but, you will likely outgrow it quickly.   It is important to spend some time deciding what software you want to use; because once you are up and running in the software, it will be hard to change in the future without a lot of data entry.

Remember, if this sounds overly complicated, Relaxing Condos offers consulting services to get you started with any of your vacation rental business needs.  If you found this useful, please share it on social media using the buttons below. Also, don’t forget to sign up for our monthly Newsletter, Special Hot Tips, and our detailed how-to setup Podio delivered to your inbox!

–Jake