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The OwnerRez Blog

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

The OwnerRez Blog

Logos and Themes and Booking Files, oh my!

We added a merge field for property image a few months back. Since then, we've been getting more and more requests to customize email templates, renter agreements, and the checkout process by adding your logo and other information to get merged automatically for display.

If you missed the property image, here's a quick rundown. Add images to your properties, and then use the {PIMGURL} merge field to insert them into emails. This will show the first image for the relevant property:

Logo

We've added a new Logo field on your profile. To populate it, go to your user profile page and select a logo file to upload:

Once uploaded, you can reference it in any template using the {MYLOGOIMGURL} merge field.

Theming

The logo upload is the first step, but if you had to go to every template and insert it, that'd be a lot of work. Instead, we've added a new Themes section in Settings that allows you to define headers and footers that will be applied across everything. You can define individual theme header/footers for emails, guest forms, and legal agreements.

To do this, go to the Theming section in Settings and hit the Change button next to the section you want to change. Inserting the logo here is a good start, but you could also add contact information or anything else you want applied everywhere.

Another quick mention of a related feature is Form Messages. These allow you to control the wording of messages during checkout, the messages in the blue boxes at the top. You can also add some confirmation information to be shown on the booking complete page.

Booking Files

Last but not least is the new booking files section. In each booking, you'll now see a Files tab that will allow you to upload files to be associated with the booking. You can upload anything relevant you want to store with the booking, like scans of ID's, pictures of property damage, or additional agreements sent. You'll also see the renter agreement signed during checkout here as well, if that was generated for the booking:

All files are stored in Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service). They've got 99.999999999% durability, so you can rest assured that any files you upload will be stored safely and securely.

It's been a great 2016 and we're looking forward to many more additions in 2017.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the OwnerRez team!

New regional listing sites added

Carolina Vacation Home Rentals
Spain-Holiday.com

We continue to be amazed at the volume and quality of new listing sites that have been popping up recently. I've found that regional sites can be just as important as the big national sites. A regional site can be much more targeted to sales in a specific area, and can get a boost in search rankings by going for a local niche rather than a broad market clientele.

In that vein, OwnerRez just added full support for integration with several new listing sites, including Carolina Vacation Home Rentals and Spain-Holiday.com. We receive inquiries through our email parsing engine. We also support two way calendar sync through our iCal calendar import and export.

Once you get your listings set up on these listing sites, use the following guides to get integrated with OwnerRez:

If you use or own a regional listing site and are interested in OwnerRez integration, let us know and we can explore that process with you.

Quick Quote enhancements, event triggers, trigger criteria, Blocked-Off Time messages, 'available property' field codes & more

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

Earlier today we released a large update. I want to quickly cover some of the bigger parts so that you can get a feel for what was rolled out.

Quick Quote enhancements

The ability to create a new quote, or just see rates and rules, right from the ribbon was a huge hit, and we've added a bunch more updates around that.

In addition to creating a quote, you can now create a booking or blocked-off time from the same pop-up when clicking on the ribbon calendar.

The Create Booking and Block-Off Time buttons above the calendar now open the new pop-up instead of going to a new page.

You can also open the pop-up from the Month view.  No need to switch back to ribbon or click a top button.  You can click on the day of the Month directly and open the pop-up from there.

We also spent a lot of time optimizing the yellow/blue instant-quote area in the pop-up to make it faster and smarter.  It now shows the rates and rules for the information you've entered very quickly, with less flickering and spinning.

And if you're somewhere else in the app, you can also get the same fast pop-up just by opening the Tools menu at the top.  No need to come back to the Bookings or Quotes menu.

New 'Create Booking' page

If you're on the Quick Quote pop-up and you tell it to create a booking, you'll notice that it takes you to the Create Booking page which has a new look and feel.  The layout is similar to the old one but the look has been updated.

One of the biggest goals in updating this page was making it responsive for tablet and smartphone sized displays.  The old design was difficult to use on small devices and required a lot of zooming in and out (or eyeball squinting ;-).  The new design works well on tablets and smartphones.

You'll also notice that the old "calendar strip" is gone when selecting dates.  In its place, we've put new calendar "date pickers" that reflect the same design we use in widget and other places.

These date pickers are easier on smaller devices and they facilitate better data entry because no matter which field you pick first (arrival or departure) the first thing you select will always be arrival before departure.

We will be adding and updating other sections to this Create Bookings page - such as the ability to collect a successful payment before creating the booking - but we wanted to get this out first so that we could move away from the old layout.

You'll notice that the Block Off Time page is similarly updated.  The Create Quote page will be getting the same update shortly.

Event Triggers

One of the big areas of the app we are overhauling is triggers.  The release brings the first update for that.

You used to be able to send triggers based on time - certain number of days before/after arrival or departure - but that was it.  We have now added the ability to attach triggers to certain events.  An "event" is an action that occurs in the system like "booking is created" or "payment is made".  These event-based triggers fire immediately at the time the event occurs with no delay.

The the moment, the only two events are "Booking is created" and "Blocked-off time is created".

We will be adding many more events in the coming weeks.  In fact, our goal is to do away with all other forms of emailing and make all guest-facing emails an event trigger.  That way, you can completely customize when and what messages are sent to the guest.

We are also going to be adding SMS (text) messaging as a type of template that can be sent for triggers.

More Trigger Criteria

As we move all email messaging to event triggers, and unify around the trigger workflow, we've had to expand trigger criteria.  And we've already started doing that.

Triggers now have a new criteria section where you can select adjacent night criteria or specific seasons.

Targeting specific seasons is a very useful thing for triggers.  After all, what if you want to send an email warning to guests that have booked Winter dates about a particular thing they need to know about?  You can now do that using the season criteria.

We will be adding a lot more criteria to this area so that you can really fine tune when you want messages sent.

Blocked-Off Time Messaging

Another thing we ran into when moving all the email messaging to triggers is what to do about things like Third Party Alerts.  This made us realize that Blocked-Off Time needed email templates and field codes as well, so we did both of those things.

You can now create custom email templates for Blocked-Off Time and have them sent on trigger events or specific times.  There is also a new set of field codes available for Blocked-Off Time.

So if you want to send a particular email out when time is blocked off to a third party, you can do that now using a custom email template and the trigger event "Blocked-off time is created".

Third Party Alerts will continue to work as they do now, and we will make sure to cleanly migrate the existing ones to trigger events in future months, but you can already start crafting your own custom stuff using trigger events now.

Available Property Field Codes

Have you ever wished that your email messages automatically showed the guest what properties were available when they request unavailable time?  Now you can.

We now have field codes (in bookings, quotes and inquiries) that will automatically insert a bulleted list of available properties for the current dates in question.

If the available property has a URL on file, it will include that as well so that the guest can click to open the property on your website directly.

You can pick a field code that includes or excludes the current property, based on the workflow you are trying to cover.

That's enough for now!

There were many other updates in this morning's release, but that's a big enough announcement for now.  I'll be posting some other things in the next week and wanted to get these updates out of the way before we move to the bigger items.

Major DNS attacks bring down many large internet sites, OwnerRez not affected, but some emails may have failed

Right on the heels of the big HomeAway downtime, this morning we have a bunch more major outages around the internet.  This time, it's far larger and part of a coordinated DDoS attack.

Major sites like Twitter, Spotify, Soundcloud, Airbnb and many others are down.  Some of them are coming back but are limited in what they show.  For instance, Twitter pages work, sort of, but images and video content are down.

OwnerRez is not affected by this.  We use a distributed DNS provider with very solid uptime that actively works to watch for, and eliminate, DDoS attacks.  This is not to say that we are impenetrable - no one is - but this particular attack did not affect our provider.

That being said, please bear with us as our email and payment systems do use other 3rd parties who, themselves, may have been affected.  For instance, this morning our email provider went down as part of this and we had to quickly change our email routing to compensate until they come back online.  Because of this you may have seen some "failed to deliver" emails between 7-8:30 am Eastern Time.  If so, we apologize.  You will need to send those emails again.  We are also looking at putting in secondary "try again" email systems that monitor for this specific type of issue and try a secondary provider.

HomeAway is down right now - are you able to take bookings? Talk to your guests?

UPDATE: HomeAway's systems just came back up after about a full hour of being down, but please read the below.  The point is still well made.

The entire HomeAway empire - all their websites, payment systems, administrative panels - are down right now, and they've been down for a long time.  You can't get to any of it.

This is why it's really REALLY good to not put all your eggs in one advertising/payment basket.  Particularly when that company isn't a software company but an advertising company.

Long unannounced down-times like this are unacceptable for a company of HomeAway's size and position.  Even if it were announced, it's too long to be acceptable.  (And we're quite sure this wasn't planned.)  HomeAway has almost 2,000 employees of which many dozens or hundreds are engineers.  They should be prepared for contingencies with offsite servers ready to go online and read-only snapshots prepared.

Here at OwnerRez, we have watched HomeAway flounder, from a engineering perspective, for a long time.  They have asked the entire vacation rental industry to put their trust (and all your properties, money, guests) into a system that is not supported by the type of software/engineering mindset that such a system needs.

Just ask yourself...

If you're using their "double blind" proxy email address, and you have a guest about to check-in, how do you communicate with that guest right this second or even an hour from now?  What if that guest is trying to communicate with you??

Always use independent software to manage your vacation rentals, guests and payments.  Always spread your advertising across different listing sites.  And above all else, build your own website and brand and collect guest information (contact information) so that you can market and communicate with them directly.

Rant over.

What is OwnerRez?

We are an online booking service for vacation rental property that helps managers and owners save time, create quotes and bookings faster, look professional and keep detailed records without needing an accountant or staff.