iCal vs API: How to Use Channel Managers to Connect to OTAs via iCals or API?

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Have you heard of people talking about channel managers, OTAs, iCal, and APIs but are not sure what all these terms mean? In this blog post, we aim to give you a brief overview of how channel managers enable you to connect to OTAs via iCal or API. We will also explain what each of these terms means and what the advantages and disadvantages are between the two technologies used to sync calendars up.

What is a channel manager, and what have OTAs got to do with it?

Before learning about using iCal or API, you must know what is a channel manager and how it is related to iCals and APIs. A channel manager is a software that allows you to synchronise your vacation rental calendar to multiple third-party websites. These websites where guests can book their stays from a selection of hospitality providers, include the likes of Booking.com, Expedia, VRBO and Airbnb. Although the latter two are sometimes referred to as listing sites rather than OTAs (Online Travel Aggregators), they all basically perform the same function. They provide you with a channel through which you can sell your accommodation nights – whether you are running a serviced apartment, a guesthouse or a boutique hotel.

What are double bookings and how do channel managers help prevent them?

When advertising across multiple websites, you risk overbooking or double booking the same unit for the same night. This usually happens when two people book the same room shortly after each other before you get the chance to update the calendars on all the sites you are advertising on. This results in overbooking, which can prove very time-consuming to resolve and could turn out to be extremely expensive if one of the sites charges you relocation fees when finding alternative accommodation for the guest. It is thus crucial that you adopt a system that allows you to quickly block off dates across all sites as soon as you get a booking through one of them.

What is an iCal and how can it help?

In order to know you should use either iCal or API, you must know what is an iCal. iCal stands for Internet Calendaring and Scheduling Core Object Specification (iCalendar). iCals are real time data feeds that allow you to synchronise calendars between each other. You may have come across these when trying to import events from your Google Calendar to your iCloud Calendar for example. It is not a technology that is exclusive to hospitality applications, nor was it developed specifically for this purpose.

However, it offers an easy way of pulling ‘events’ (whether this be a blocked date or an actual booking) from another system. So your central calendar provider (Central Reservation System – CRS, Property Management Software – PMS, or Channel Manager – CM) may provide iCal links that you can import into OTAs and other listing sites. This means that whenever your main calendar has availability blocked out due to an event, the same dates will be blocked out on a remote calendar. However, there is a catch.

The block does not happen instantly as there is no ‘push’ of the event. Rather, the third-party site has to ‘pull’ the link to request an update. Hence, remote calendars are only updated whenever the OTA ‘pulls’ an update, and this could be as rarely as once a day. Thus, there is ample risk for overbookings to occur.

How can channel managers offering API connections reduce this risk?

Channel managers can have API integrations with a PMS (Property Management Software), or could be built into one. In the former case the information flows from the PMS to the channel manager, in the latter case it’s all shared in-house. Whichever your use case may be, the interesting question is how channel managers integrate via API connections to the OTAs (often referred to as channels, hence a channel manager).

What is an API? API is the acronym for Application Programming Interface and refers to the language that different apps use to talk to each other. These enable real-time connections and flow of pretty much any type of data. In the context of the synchronisation of calendars across websites used to advertise vacation rentals, this helps reduce overbookings. API connections are usually of one of two types – XML or JSON. These refer to the type of technology used to build the integration. JSON integrations based on RESTful APIs are generally considered to be superior to XML integrations, however most OTAs will have their API built based on XML. As an end user you should not experience any noticeable difference due to this.

Using API integrations, a channel manager can actually ‘push’ an update as soon as a change occurs, which vastly reduces the window of time during which a double booking could occur. Moreover, channel managers that integrate to OTAs using API connections can also push pricing across. This means that you can centrally manage your prices, and as soon as you make a change, get it to propagate not only to your direct booking website, but also to all the channels that you are using to sell your inventory. Say, for example, you find out that a major event has just been announced for your town and you would like to hike the rates. This way, you can quickly and efficiently ensure that your up-to-date prices have been pushed to all websites in the shortest time possible so that you can maximise your income for those days while guests head to their devices to book their stays!

If you want to really become a pro at maximising your occupancy and managing your revenue as efficiently as possible, you may wish to integrate your PMS or Channel Manager to a dynamic pricing software such as PriceLabs or Beyond. This can be particularly helpful if you are working across multiple markets, and are not able to continuously keep an eye out to track how the market is moving for each location where you have a property under ownership, arbitrage or management.

Now that you know all about iCal vs API and their connection to channel managers, if you are searching for a solution that will help you achieve all of this, take a look at what our Team at Zeevou have developed, and if you want to find out more, book a live 1:1 Free Demo!

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