What's a Channel Manager and Why Do I Need One?

On the surface, you may feel as if your boutique or independent hotel has little in common with large, chain hotels. However, you might have more in common with these hotel operators than you think!

While you’re probably targeting a specific audience that prefers an authentic, intimate experience at a locally owned inn, you likely still need to create a distribution network across various channels in order to effectively market and sell your rooms. This distribution network is one key to increasing occupancy and brand awareness for your property.

However, signing up for these sites and adding your inventory is only one piece of the puzzle. Once you have your network, how will you manage it? How can you truly benefit from these relationships without taking on a ton of manual work? As an independent hotel operator, you’re going to need a solution to manage these connections and keep your pricing and inventory up-to-date in real-time. That’s where a channel manager comes in!

If this is new to you, it can seem overwhelming at first, but we're going to break it down for you below. First, we'll give you an overview of what a channel manager is and how it fits into your operations. Then we'll share the benefits that come along with using a robust channel manager and what you might experience without one. When you're done you'll have what you need to make an informed decision for your business!

two women sitting together looking at a laptop smiling

What Is a Channel Manager?

A channel manager is a cloud-based tool that allows you to synchronize your booking information across all platforms with which you partner. For example, if your rooms sell out over the holiday season, the travel sites you work with — such as Airbnb, Expedia, Booking.com, and TripAdvisor — will all instantly be notified to remove availability for those dates. This way, you can avoid accidentally double booking .

It's important to understand that a channel manager is not a tool that replaces your property management system, but rather works as a complement to that system. Your property management system not only allows you to accept direct and secure online bookings from your guests, but it also allows you use a channel manager to broadcast your real-time availability and rates across your entire distribution network.

Understanding How a Channel Manager Works

A channel manager works as a centralized point of contact between your property management system, and third-party booking partners you work with, also known as online travel agencies or OTAs. You can use this tool to connect your real-time availability and pricing with OTAs (online travel agencies) in order to increase your property's exposure and up your chances of filling rooms. The channel manager acts as a two-way street, making sure any changes to your inventory or rates are accurately reflected on all booking sites.

graphic showing the flow of information from PMS to channel manager to OTAs, and PMS to booking engine

For example, if a new special event is announced in your area, you’ll likely want to raise your room rates for that weekend knowing you’ll sell out. As soon as you set the new premium rate, the channel manager will automatically sync that information across your entire distribution network, ensuring that any guest searching for your property online will see consistent, accurate information about that rate.

Similarly, if you use any sort of yield management automation for your rates, you should make sure the channel manager you use will automate those changes as well - especially because your prices could fluctuate throughout the day. Consider a room rate going up on your booking engine based on inventory, but the rates staying the same on the OTAs. Not ideal!

The only thing better than having a channel manager is having one that works fast and integrates perfectly with your existing property management system. Not all options are created equal, of course, so you’ll want to make sure you understand exactly what you need and what each option you’re evaluating offers, so you can find the best fit.

graphic showing the flow of information from PMS to channel manager to OTAs, and PMS to booking engine

What Are the Benefits of a Channel Manager?

There are several significant benefits to having a channel manager for your boutique hotel or bed & breakfast. Those benefits include:

  • Minimizing the time you spend on administrative tasks: The burden of manually updating your current availability and rates paired with the need to share that information with every OTA in your network can be overwhelming, at best. At worst, it could lead to miscommunication and inaccurate information being shared across channels.

    With an integrated channel manager in place, you can update the most important information about your hotel in real-time and know that every site within your network will instantly have access to that info. This should reduce the amount of time you spend sitting in the office, decrease the workload of your staff, and allow you to focus on the long-term goals you have for your business. Yay!

  • Reducing the risk of overbooking rooms at your property: Manually updating your availability across all booking channels leaves you open to overbooking your rooms.One of the more awkward and embarrassing moments as a property owner is having to tell a guest that you double-booked their room. A channel manager virtually eliminates that risk, allowing you to feel confident in your data, and giving you the peace of mind to focus on providiYou:ng the best guest experience. graphic that says Repeat after us... Down with double bookings

  • Expanding your marketing reach: We know the benefits of working with OTAs come at a price, but when you recognize that they act as a form of marketing, you may find it easier to stomach. Using a channel manager for all the reasons we’ve already shared makes using the OTAs a no-brainer if you use them wisely. We offer more in-depth training on have a successful relationship with your OTA partners, but in short, when you think about how many people visit your website, versus the number of people visiting sites like Booking.com and Expedia, it’s easy to see how you could wind up attracting new guests that wouldn’t have found you otherwise.

    And we believe as time goes on more people will use those sites as a search engine, first looking to narrow down where they might stay to a small list of choices. They’ll then visit the individual websites of their top options to learn more and eventually book direct! In fact, a recent hotel website study by Google, 52% of travelers will visit a hotel's own website after seeing them on an OTA. And more than 20% of direct bookings occur after the traveler first saw the property on an OTA site. graphic that says 51% of travelers will visit a property's direct website after finding them first on an OTA. You gotta be in it to win it. Source is Google Hotel Websites Study

Choosing the Right Channel Manager for Your Business

Most hotel owners and managers — regardless of the size of their property — find that it's beneficial to use a channel manager. However, it's important that you implement one that will work well with your business plan and distribution strategy. When searching for a channel manager, you should consider one that:

  • Was built to support a property like yours and connects seamlessly with your property management system.

  • Allows you to partner with the most powerful OTAs, including Expedia, Airbnb, Tripadvisor and more.

  • Gives you an opportunity to customize the information that you input into the channel manager. Not only should you be able to update your rates and availability, but you also should have the opportunity to input occupancy restrictions and minimum night requirements.

  • Offers dedicated support in case you ever need help or have a question.

At ThinkReservations, we are proud to be the premier property management system for bed & breakfast and hotel operators. We understand that independent hotel owners have unique needs and goals for their business. Our intuitive property management system has the features to minimize your administrative tasks, grow your business, and prioritize customer service.

We even built our own optional, channel manager. Because it was designed to work with our property management system only, we’re able to provide automated updates within 3 seconds of any changes! And we have a team of OTA experts available via email, phone, or chat to help you get set up quickly and easily. Now that’s the type of experience that will have you wondering why you didn’t start using a channel manager sooner!

For more information about ThinkReservations and our channel manager, contact us today.

We look forward to helping you discover new ways to grow your business!

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