You only need to briefly look at the latest data on the usage of mobile phones and apps to understand how crucial this form of technology is to day-to-day life. The average person in the US checks their phone 63 times a day and spends over four hours on their device. Of that four hours, nearly 80 percent is spent in a mobile app rather than a browser.
Downloads and installs of the Hostaway vacation rental management app have grown exponentially since the pandemic sped up digital adoption in the running of property management businesses. In the last six months, this has increased by 276 percent in North America, 186 percent in Europe, and 143 percent in Australia and New Zealand.
So, how useful are mobile apps to property managers, and what are they able to do that an internet browser can’t? And why should vacation rental software brands consider developing an app? Let’s take a look.
We all know today’s property managers have a lot of demands on their time. The job can require visits to different places outside the office, such as greeting guests at check-in, carrying out property inspections, resolving issues, training staff, and meeting new homeowners. These crucial parts of the job effectively limit the time spent in front of a computer, particularly for those with a geographically spread-out portfolio.
However, screen time is still super important for property managers to run and grow their business, and the average property manager uses at least four different vacation rental software solutions every day. These usually include a PMS, plus tools to enhance and streamline guest communication, cleaning, accounting, marketing, and more. An increasing number of property management companies are also allowing employees to work from home since the pandemic, so the need for good software to do the job remotely has become more important in the last couple of years.
The clear benefit of a mobile app is using the software on the go. It is also useful for flagging and resolving any out-of-hours problems where a laptop or computer is switched off. Eighty-seven percent of property managers currently use a mobile app to run part of their business every day.
What Can a Mobile App Do?
Quite simply, a mobile app should do the basics of what a property manager really needs, like being able to see and modify upcoming reservations, and sometimes other unique features. More and more software vendors are developing mobile apps to sit alongside their desktop offering, so the range of functions available to property managers is far and wide.
In my experience, the most-used mobile app function for property managers tends to be a messaging tool, unifying communications guests, homeowners, and OTA channels. I think this shows how important it is for users to have a dedicated platform for work communications on their phone, rather than making do with emails or text messages. PMS’s that have their own mobile app should have this functionality.
A key perk of using a mobile app is that it is much easier to drive push notifications than on a browser. This is particularly beneficial for receiving communications or when you have noise or home monitoring solutions, where alerts for anti-social behavior or changes in the property environment can potentially happen at all hours. The beauty of mobile app notifications is that you can customize them through your phone, giving users control over what and when information is shared.
Managing field staff can also be done much more efficiently through a mobile app, and help drive critical business insights. Cleaning and maintenance apps connect properties to cleaners and allow them to check off a customized checklist of tasks as they go through the changeover process. Tracking how long cleaners are in the app also gives property managers a better understanding of managing and resourcing staff effectively—an incredible benefit that just wouldn’t be possible on a desktop computer.
What Should a Good Mobile App Look Like?
It’s important to note that while mobile apps are indeed starting to become more prevalent in the vacation rental industry, not a lot of brands currently use a native mobile app. By this, I mean one developed specifically as an app rather than a responsive version of desktop software.
The benefit of a native mobile app is that it is much faster and more reliable and generally feels less clunky to use. As the whole point of a mobile app is to save time for the property manager and be able to enjoy a truly on-the-go experience, this is a no-brainer.
However, just like apps you might use on your iPhone for personal, you should ensure that if you dare use a mobile app, make sure its developer is continually updating it to fix bugs, improve the interface, and add new features.
In this digital-first age, developing a mobile app keeps your business competitive and relevant. The benefits for property managers are clear, but for vendors, an in-house app can provide an invaluable way to gain more insight into customer behavior, which can help drive more value for them.
Maria Lopez is vice president of product at Hostaway. With a unique blend of business and technical acumen, Lopez has helped businesses across the US and Europe launch successful products and achieve their revenue goals for over 20 years.