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The OwnerRez Blog

A blog about our thoughts, services, upcoming features and the industry at large.

The OwnerRez Blog

FlipKey inquiry parsing

You may have noticed that some of your inquiries from FlipKey have come in as "unrecognized email" over the past week or two.  This is due to some changes FlipKey made in the message format.  We released a patch to fix it last week.  A change occurred again last night, so this morning we just released a patch that fixes it again.  Please let us know if you continue seeing any issues with FlipKey inquiry emails or receive more "unrecognized email" alerts.

David and Tricia Bregman - August's Vacation Rental of the Month

We would like to introduce David and Tricia Bregman as OwnerRez's VROTM!  The Bregman's live in Orange County, California.  David and Tricia own two vacation rental homes in Palm Springs.

They bought their first rental in July, 2007.  Originally purchased as housing for a disabled relative, it was eventually renovated and turned into a profitable income stream as their first vacation rental!

Vacation Rental of the Month - David and Tricia Bregman

Meet David and Tricia!

David and Tricia know first hand how time consuming owning vacation rentals can be, so when we asked what they liked best about being a vacation rental owner this is what they had to say:

"Our favorite part about a being a rental owner is creating and running a successful side business that is making us money.  It didn't take much time after we got it up and running.  We outsource key aspects of the rentals (greeting guests, housekeeping, and maintenance) but respond to inquiries and do the bookings ourselves.  We each work full-time plus we have two children under 10 so life can be crazy at times.  Very rarely does the vacation rental business take us away from the top priorities in our lives."

Like most of our users the Bregman's most useful listing site is VRBO.  For their first home they advertised on VRBO, HomeAway, Vacation Home Rentals, and FlipKey/TripAdvisor.

Vacation Rental of the Month - David and Tricia Bregman

For their second home (which they bought specifically as a vacation rental) they only advertise on VRBO and HomeAway.  With the first home booking so quickly they utilize the spillover inquiries to help fill the second home. (Smart!)

Luckily David and Tricia do not face a lot of obstacles with the rentals they own, however like most of our users sometimes they must get involved directly when guests have issues with Internet Access, Cable/TV issues, or Pool/Spa heating issues.

Vacation Rental of the Month - David and Tricia Bregman

They minimize guest problems by having strict vacation rental policies.  Rules like minimum rental age being 28 and their security deposit being a $1,000 hold on a credit card.  They believe this has directly correlated into very few rental problems.  In two years, they only had to deduct from the security deposit 4 times for damage.

How has OwnerRez helped?

When asked how OwnerRez has helped them, David and Tricia said:

"OwnerRez has completely simplified the booking process for us.  Guests want to pay with credit cards and they want straightforward policies.  OwnerRez allows us to manage everything without having to ever take someone's credit card information.  Our business would be much more complicated if we didn't have OwnerRez as a tool."

We wish The Bregman's all the success in the world with their vacation rental business and thank them for continually being loyal users.  Good luck on your next rental purchase!

Scheduled sending for emails

This past week, we released an exciting new feature that allows users to send schedule (or time) based emails to guests.  Instead of being tied to a specific event, you can now send emails based on a number of days before or after the arrival, departure or booked date.

Let's Take A Look

To create a scheduled email, go to the email templates area and click on Create Scheduled Template.

scheduled sending template overview

Scheduled emails rely on scheduled templates.  The template determines the kind of message that will be sent, who the recipients are and the point in time it will be sent.  After clicking the "Create Scheduled Template" button, you'll notice a normal template form open but with a new "Sending Schedule" section at the top.

scheduled sending template add new

In the "Name" box, put in something that will help remind you what the template is for.  On the "Send" line, select when you want the email to go out.  For instance, let's assume that we want to send the access code to the guest 10 days before arrival.  Our Name box might be "Send Access Code to Guest", the days would be "10" and we'd select "Before Arrival" from the drop-down.

scheduled sending template example

The other template fields are exactly what you've used before.  From, To, Subject, Body - fill them in however you want your message to look.  You can use the "Use Default" button at the bottom to pre-fill some of the message.

All templates are property agnostic.  In other words, you need to use field codes to distinguish between properties.  Do not create a new scheduled template for each of your properties, or your guests will receive multiple copies of the same message.  For instance, if you want your email to read "Access code for Acme Retreat" where Acme Retreat is the name of one of your properties, you need to set the subject to "Access code for {PNAME}".  Click the button next to each input box to get a full list of field codes.

The Difference Between 'Scheduled Templates' and 'Scheduled Emails'

It's important to understand the difference between scheduled templates and the specific emails that are sent for each booking.

Each individual booking has a list of scheduled emails waiting to be sent.  You can see the scheduled emails for a specific booking by opening the booking and clicking on the Email tab.

scheduled sending email example

You can add, update or delete scheduled emails on the booking which only affects that specific booking.  If a booking does not have any scheduled emails listed, no scheduled emails will be sent for that booking regardless of the templates you have created.

Back on the template page, you'll notice an option called "Add to all current bookings" which is selected by default.

scheduled sending email add to all current bookings

This option allows you to control whether or not you want a scheduled email created for bookings already entered in the system.  In the example of sending the access code to guest, you would want to leave this checkbox selected so that already-created bookings get the email as well as new bookings you create in the future.

The system will never automatically create a scheduled email for any booking whose arrival date is in the past.  If the arrival date is in the past, the booking is skipped.  Blocked-off time and canceled bookings are skipped as well.

Most of the time, you'll want to leave the "Add to all current bookings" checkbox selected so that already-created bookings get the email.  If, however, you only want future-entered bookings to get the email, unselect the checkbox so that none of the current bookings are affected.

As new bookings are entered into the system, new scheduled emails are created based on your scheduled templates.  If you want to stop newly-created bookings from getting scheduled emails, use the Disable option on the template to turn it off.  Disabled templates do not automatically create scheduled emails, but you can still manually create scheduled emails based on disabled templates.

When editing a scheduled template, the option checkbox changes to read "Overwrite all current bookings to use these settings".

scheduled sending email overwrite all current bookings

This acts very similarly to "Add to all current bookings".  When saved, the system will loop through all current bookings (i.e. bookings with future arrival dates) and add a scheduled email based on the changes you saved.  If the booking already has a scheduled email for that template, it will attempt to reset the sending date to match your changes unless the scheduled email has already been sent.  Once sent, a scheduled email is never changed.

That's it for now!  Have fun sending templates and communicating with your guests!

Please let us know what you think.  What do you like or dislike?  What is simple or confusing?  What areas need to be expanded or reduced?  We have a list of potential changes and upgrades that we're mulling over.  The more feedback you give, the more we can help your workflow.

Using iCal to share your calendar data

A few updates ago, we released the ability to publish and share your calendar data through the use of iCal feeds.  iCal is a file format which allows internet users to share calendar events between different services and applications.

We announced the new iCal feature to users but never blogged about it.  Our assumption was that those users who wanted the feature would already know what it was and how to use it.  However, I'd like to run through a quick tutorial so other users can make use of this great feature and understand it a little more completely.

Setting up iCal for your property

Open one of your properties in OwnerRez and click on the iCal tab on the right.  Click the "Add iCal Feed" button at the bottom and you'll be presented with a normal looking form with some options.

ical add to property

When iCal events (which are bookings, in the case of OwnerRez) are shared, there are numerous pieces of data that can be shared along with the dates.  For instance, you can share the guest's name, the property location and more.  The check boxes you see on the page allow you to pick and choose which pieces of data you want to share and which you don't.

Because you can create as many iCal feeds as you want for a property, you can share the same iCal data with two different people and set different settings for each person.  For instance, suppose you want to share your calendar data with a third party listing site (that accepts iCal) and your housekeeper.  You would create two iCal feeds for the same property and set the first one to not have any settings but select "show guest" on the second one for the housekeeper.

Once you click Save, your new feed will be created and you'll see a new URL to share.

ical url to share

Everyone that shares your data through iCal must use this URL.  The recipient will use the URL in their personal calendar system to subscribe, import or "bring in" your calendar entries.  Let's look at how several popular calendar systems use iCal feeds.

Adding iCal to Yahoo! Calendar

If you have a Yahoo! account, go to Yahoo! Calendar and login.  After it opens, you'll notice a small "SUBSCRIBED" heading in the left sidebar.  "Subscribing" is how Yahoo! refers to iCal feeds.  Click the gear icon and you'll be presented with several options.

ical yahoo add

Click on the "Subscribe To Other Calendars" option and a dialog box will open for you to use.  This dialog box is where Yahoo! expects you to enter the iCal information from the provider or host system (which is OwnerRez).

ical yahoo add details

Set the name to whatever you want.  In this example, I used the name of my property in OwnerRez.  In the iCal Address field, put the URL of the iCal feed provided by OwnerRez.  The Color, Refresh and Remind fields are for you to choose based on your preferences.

Click the Save button, and within a few seconds you'll see all your OwnerRez bookings appear.

ical yahoo finished

To remove your data from Yahoo! Calendar, click on the down arrow next to the calendar in the left sidebar and select the "Unsubscribe" option.

ical yahoo remove

Adding iCal to Google Calendar

If you have a Google account, go to Google Calendar and login.  After it opens, you'll notice a small "Other calendars" heading in the left sidebar.  Click the down arrow next to "Other calendars" and you'll be presented with several options.

ical google add

Click on the "Add by URL" option and a dialog box will open for you to use.  This dialog box is where Google expects you to enter the iCal information from the provider or host system.

ical google add details

In the URL field, put the URL of the iCal feed provided by OwnerRez.  You don't have to make the calendar publicly accessible.  That's for you to decide and has nothing to do with the iCal data provided by OwnerRez.

Click the "Add Calendar" button, and within a few seconds you'll see all your OwnerRez bookings appear.

ical google finished

To remove your data from Google Calendar, click on the down arrow next to the calendar in the left sidebar and select the "Hide this calendar" option.

ical google remove

Once you delete an iCal feed, the URL you've shared with third parties will no longer work.  If you only want to stop the feed from working temporarily but not destroy the URL that you've shared, use the Disable option instead.  To disable, open your feeds and click the "Disable" button.

ical disable

You'll see the feed turn red and it will no longer work.  To reactivate it, click the "Re-Enable" button and the URL will come back to life.

Hopefully, this brief walk-through will help you understand what iCal is and how it works.  There are many calendar systems that accept iCal feeds such as Outlook, Lotus Notes and Apple Calendar.  If you have any problems sharing your data with these calendars, please let us know.

Custom fields expanded to work with bookings

A few weeks ago we came out with custom fields for properties.  A lot of users jumped on the feature immediately, but a few other users pointed out how useful it would be to be able to add custom fields at the booking level too.  So we did that.

If you go to custom fields and add (or edit) one, you'll notice a new Type field showing.  The Type field lets you pick whether the field is to be used on bookings or properties.

custom fields type

Everything about how custom fields for bookings are implemented is exactly the same as it is for properties.  Open a booking and you'll notice a new Custom Fields tab.  If you click in, you'll see the exact same layout that you have with properties.  The fields and options are exactly the same.

In the email templates, the field selector shows your custom booking fields at the end of the system booking fields.

custom fields email template field selector

Select the field and you're done.  One thing to note - when previewing your email templates, custom booking fields do not show a value.  The system cannot show a value when previewing because it does not know which booking value to use.

What else would you like to see changed or added to custom fields?  We've had users ask for a default value - that is, the custom field has a starting value that is used if a value isn't assigned at the property or booking level.  Is that something your workflow could use?  As always, feedback is welcomed!