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Channel Technical Terms (like API, OTA...)

Our Channel Management feature is extremely powerful and can greatly simplify your channel advertising. Learn how it works by reading our Channel Management Overview article.

As you configure and connect channel options, you will come across a number of technical terms that might make you scratch your head. Instead of opening 47 browser tabs and Googling them, here's a quick run-down of what they mean.

API and API Integration

The acronym "API" stands for Application Programming Interface.  When an app or service has an API, it means that the builders of that app/service have created a way for other third parties to programmatically connect with their app.  So instead of having to manually type things into a user interface, your third party app can connect automatically and pass data back and forth.  The API defines a specification that the third party applications have to follow, with very specific guidelines, in order to successfully pass data back and forth.  In the world of cloud technology, where software is almost always hosted online, APIs have become very common and necessary.  More technical stuff about APIs can be read here.

APIs in the vacation rental industry are no different.  When a channel (eg. HomeAway or Airbnb) has a API, it means that third party apps (like OwnerRez) can programmatically connect and pass data back and forth with the channel.  However, just because the channel has a API does not mean that they will allow "just any" third party app to connect.  There is typically a strict qualification and verification phase that goes on before access to the API is given to the third party, and then it can take many more months to successfully pass testing and certification. OwnerRez has successfully done that with its API Integrations for HomeAway, Airbnb and the other channel partners.

OwnerRez itself has an API that users can use to pass data back and forth with third party applications or their own custom programs.  For more information on that, read about how to find your OwnerRez API user key.

PMS

From time to time, you might hear a channel or industry partner mention "PMS" when referencing your business.  They might say something like "your PMS should support..." or "ask your PMS about...".

PMS means Property Management System which is the back-end software system you use to store and manage your bookings, guest, properties and everything else that runs your day-to-day operations.  PMS's also tend to run cleaning, maintenance and other workflow related issues for day-to-day operations.

You might use several software systems together, but the core system that holds your bookings and is the definitive authority for what is availability (re: calendar) and who your guests are is your PMS.

OwnerRez is a PMS.  We are also a channel manager, payment integrator, website host and many other things; but we are first and foremost a PMS.

Channel Manager

Strictly speaking, a Channel Manager is a software service that has API Integration with multiple channels and provides a single interface so that you can manage your content from one place but distribute to multiple channels.

This may sound like the same thing as a PMS because many PMS's offer the same functionality.  However, there are also a lot of third-party or "middle" channel managers that only provide this piece and nothing else.  They don't claim to be the primary back-end system, and they integrate with PMS's to move content back and forth to channels.

OwnerRez is a channel manager in addition to being a PMS.  As mentioned in the introduction above, we can great simplify your life through our channel management features, so take some time to read about all the great channel management options we offer.

And to be clear, we do not integrate or support third-party or "middle" channel managers.  Read why by clicking that link.  And besides, why would we need to?  We're a channel manager ourselves.

OTA

The acronym "OTA" stands for Online Travel Agency.  An online website or service that sells lodging or travel can be considered an OTA.  These websites are wholly devoted to travel needs and sell across many types of lodging and transportation - hotels, cruises, add-on packages, flights, car rentals, and so on.  They sell on behalf of many brands - Marriot, Holiday Inn, Best Western, etc - not just one.  Some popular OTAs are Priceline, Expedia, Hotels.com, Hotwire and so on.

HomeAway and Airbnb are not OTAs because they are solely devoted to vacation rentals or shared-space accommodations.  While they may include some links to car rentals or flights in their emails, those are advertisements designed to up-sell the vacation rental but not a main part (or focus) of their product.

On the other hand, TripAdvisor and Booking.com are both OTAs because they have full service travel, lodging and transportation options as their main product.  They added vacation rentals in recent years after seeing the success of the vacation rental industry and how much market was being lost by traditional hotels.  Other OTAs are adding vacation rentals through distribution partnerships.  For instance, when you list on HomeAway, your property will end up being shown on Expedia as well.  Booking.com distributes to Priceline and Google Hotel Ads in addition to others.

OwnerRez is obviously not an OTA.

iCal

"iCal", short for iCalendar, is a data format specifically designed for sharing calendar data.  All major calendar programs (Google Calendar, Outlook, Apple Calendar) publish an iCal feed or link that can be put into other third party calendars to keep them up to date. More technical stuff about the iCal spec can be read here.

Virtually all vacation rental channels - whether national brands (eg. Homeaway, Airbnb) or local/regional listing sites - support the iCal data format for sharing calendar data.  This is because it is extremely important to be able to show accurate availability to guests if the channel is going to get any serious business.

Most channels refer to their iCal support as "calendar import" and "calendar export" to denote that you are importing/exporting data between systems and not syncing at an API or partner level.  If you look at HomeAway or Airbnb's calendar settings, both call it exactly that: "calendar import/export".  Again, this is simply an iCal data feed under the covers.

OwnerRez fully supports iCal (calendar import/export) and, like all OwnerRez features, we offer for more options around this than any of the channels (and any of our competitors) do.  For instance, we offer custom/secondary calendar exports for customizing how much data is shared with different third parties, and our calendar import side checks for a variety of channel problems and smartly works around them.

Syncing

Everyone uses the term "syncing".  You'll hear this a lot from vacation rental channels and software - syncing rates, calendar syncing, content syncing.  But what exactly does "sync" mean?

Strictly speaking, syncing simply means that one system is keeping its data the same as another system.  Syncing is a general term that does not refer to any one type of data format, delivery or process, but includes all of them.

When iCal links (ie. calendar import/export) are being checked by a channel or PMS, that's a type of syncing.

When a channel is communicating directly with a PMS or channel manager, via an API integration, that's a type of syncing.

Our Channel Bridge tool, built in-house, downloads booking, guest and review data from channels via a Chrome extension and then imports that into OwnerRez.  This too is a type of syncing, though it is a manual sync and does not run automatically in the background.

Mapping

There are a number of places in OwnerRez where we talk about mapping properties.  Some channels like HomeAway will ask you to send property mappings as well.  While this may sound complicated at first, it's really a very simple concept.

In order for OwnerRez and the channels to understand things about each other, there needs to be a record of what property listing (on the channel side) matches up with what property in OwnerRez.  Your property might be called "Acme Cabin" in OwnerRez but have a slightly different name on the channel.  Or the channel might send an inquiry email or guest review without the property name at all.  There has to be way for our software to know what # 123456 is, for example, when we see it in a spreadsheet, channel bridge download, inquiry email or other place throughout the system.

OwnerRez handles this with an Identifier Mappings settings area.  You can see your OwnerRez properties and a box to enter the listing number from the channel right next to it.  By default, we offer many dozens of channels including many local/regional listing sites.  If there is a channel that you need to configure mappings for, no matter how large or small, let us know and we'll add it there for you.

To be clear, Identifier Mappings are mostly for non-API functions like inquiry forwarding, review import and Channel Bridge.  Each API integration also has its own property mappings area where you directly connect the OwnerRez property with the channel property.

Pushing and pulling

The term "push" refers to the pro-active ability of a PMS or channel manager to send content to a channel, typically when the content changes on the PMS or channel manager.  A common example is "rate push" where the PMS is the master record for rates and, when the rates change, the PMS reaches out to the channel and instantly changes them on the channel.

This is unique from a "pull" process where the channel is monitoring data feeds or data end points for changes and then updates its system every few hours when a change is detected.

Channels can push from their side as well, sending booking or guest changes to the PMS or channel manager as they occur.

Pushing creates real time updates, so API integrations that push are preferable to ones that mostly pull.  Pushing is akin to reaching out and making instant changes on demand.

Pulling is a way where systems "check with" the other system from time to time and change as necessary.  In software terms, "pull" relies on polling.  Pulling is less efficient but faster to develop from an engineering standpoint.  iCal (calendar import/export) is a pull process, for instance.

OwnerRez does both pushing and pulling depending on what the channel allows.  In some cases, we support both pushing and pulling for the same channel.  HomeAway API integration for instance updates property content every few hours on a pull process, but we also push rate and availability to them as they change on demand.  Airbnb API is mostly a push process, but both OwnerRez and Airbnb do pulls every so often as well, depending on the function.