by Pamela Knudsen, Director of Compliance Services for Avalara MyLodgeTax
There are certain experiences that simply require businesses to provide a human touch, like a fitting for a new suit or a guided travel tour. But, that’s not the case for all businesses — or business functions.
Automation is having a particularly powerful impact on the service industry, where technology is alleviating the workload for business owners, while enhancing experiences for customers. The technology is becoming particularly useful in the short-term rental space. Here’s how:
In the not-so-distant past, making hotel reservations required a rotary phone, the Yellow Pages and a whole lot of patience. Vacationers were required to call around, inquiring about hotel availability and features. In today’s world, vacationers need little more than an Internet connection and credit card to book that room.
Automated booking enables travelers to effortlessly reserve a room with instant gratification. They’ll also have the option of viewing, modifying and canceling reservations online. As well, travelers booking far in advance will receive email reminders, lest they forget about their plans.
Automation can be a huge help to rental owners, too. This technology enables them to track bookings, cancellations and site traffic with little capital investment, training or time required. Automation can also alleviate the stress of managing multiple rentals and streamline the entire rental process.
Moreover, automation tells renters more about the guests they’re set to receive, and helps them determine whether special room preparations are necessary. For example, if you’re expecting a young family, you might need extra time to child-proof the rental.
2. Housekeeping help.
Ah, the joys of modern technology: dishwashers, Roombas, microwaves, robotic maids — the latter might seem like a stretch, but it’s not as hyperbolic you think. Automation is helping lessen the burden of post-rental cleaning.
Services are available that help automate housekeeping services by scheduling cleaning appointments online that coordinate with a guest’s arrival or departure time. Such services can also monitor your housekeeping trends and send an alert if your vacant rental is past due for a cleaning.
Better still, housekeeping apps can determine the level of cleaning service your rental requires, based on a number of variables. They can also enable commercial cleaning services to submit property damage reports that include photographic evidence.
Automated housekeeping has become so popular that there are now multiple apps to choose from. Before selecting a service, compare prices and features to find one that best suits your budget and cleaning needs.
3. Tax time.
Tax seasons have a way of sneaking up on us, and hurling us into a disorganized frenzy. Luckily, all that stress and panic can be avoided with the right automated tools.
The right automated tax collection tool can easily determine what local and state taxes are due, their deadlines and to which agencies money is owed. Automated tax collection tools can also automatically remit required lodging tax payments. It’s important to remember that while the traveler is responsible for paying those taxes, it’s the owner’s responsibility to collect the money and remit the payment. If the owner fails to collect the required taxes from their customers, they’re on the hook for that cash.
By automating tax collection and remittance, you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing the correct amount of taxes is being paid to the correct agencies on time.
Further complicating the issue, tax requirements are regularly changing on the local, state and federal levels. It can be tricky to keep up with those changes, but this is another area where automation can help. The right automated tool will alert you of any relevant tax changes and adjust its automatic withdrawals to meet the new requirements.
As well, tax solutions can obtain and manage licenses, track license renewal requirements, and automatically renew them when due.
4. Strategic relations.
Tracking information with pen and paper – or even through Excel – has become an impractical means of tracking customer data and interactions. Property owners should instead seek a customer relationship management (CRM) solution to take their Rolodex further.
A CRM will help you maintain a detailed, updated database of your visitors – and any travelers you have discussed your short-term rental with – through easy-to-use, automated technology.
Aside from tracking customer information, a good CRM also offers marketing automation and predictive analytics technologies. This helps determine the best next step in interacting with prospective renters. It can also help prioritize leads and maintain contact with potential repeat customers.
5. Safety and security.
For short-term rental owners, nothing is more important than the safety and security of guests and property. But when your miles – and sometimes states – away from the property you own and manage, protecting your rental can be easier said than done. This is especially true for high-turnover rentals, or properties located in remote areas.
When you can’t be on or near your property, look to automation to serve as your eyes and ears. Noise tracking and notification systems such as NoiseAware can track overall noise levels and any suspicious outdoor sounds. NoiseAware tracks activity around-the-clock and provides users with a dashboard they can use to monitor activity or communicate with guests.
Other apps provide automatic notifications – or even calls to security – if there’s suspicious activity or movement during times of property vacancy.
There are also specialty, customer-designed insurance products that exist to protect short-term rental owners and their assets. Home inspection apps will give you a checklist to complete and submit on your phone, which includes photos.
And if you’re worried about a key being copied or falling into the wrong hands, consider automation there, too. Smart locks are available that can programed to automatically rotate lock box password pins before a new customer checks in. This ensures travelers can’t access the property prematurely, and can be useful when scheduling maintenance and house cleaning appointments.
For short-term rental owners, time isn’t just money. It’s a precious opportunity to balance the books, communicate with customers and prepare a property for the next guest. But of course, when it comes to time, it seems there’s just never enough.
Short of a technology that would allow you to clone multiple versions of yourself, the best way to maximize your time as a short-term rental owner is through automation. If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to embrace technology as a way to more effectively manage your property while improving the overall getaway experience for guests.
Pamela Knudsen is Director of Compliance at Avalara MyLodgeTax, leading the Lodging tax team and Returns Experience/Reconciliation team for Sales & Use. She serves as a leading voice in vacation rental tax compliance and regulation, in addition to bringing in-depth experience across software/SaaS technology as well as ERP systems. Pam joined Avalara in 2012.