ICal, AirBnB, and the Mysteries of Syncing Calendars

We like to keep Checkfront as flexible as possible; our interconnectivity with other related apps on the web is part of what makes us different. Once a client has set up their inventory in our app and sees the benefits of online self-serve bookings, they often ask about how they can get even more exposure for their accommodation or tour, and if they can post their Checkfront listings on an aggregator site like TripAdvisor or AirBnB. The answer is yes—and no. It all comes down to iCal, and how various websites interact with it; if the right elements line up, you can list your accommodation on an external travel website—with a few caveats.


What does this have to do with iCal?

iCalendar, or iCal, is a file format designed to transmit calendar-based data, as you might expect. It is compatible with most online calendars, mail clients, and other schedule-related apps; once you’ve exported your information from one calendar, you can import it into another. If you have a calendar app on your smartphone, or use Google’s calendar to keep track of your obligations, then it’s easy to see the advantages of iCal; it spreads that information to people who may not have access to your Checkfront account, and makes it easy to access from anywhere.

You can export your Checkfront calendar as an iCal feed by going to the Calendar section on your dashboard, clicking on the ‘Settings’ button on the far right, and selecting ‘iCal’ from the bottom of the drop-down. This will bring up a menu with an iCal export link, as well as several options for what you’d like to export; you can choose to only show your bookings, only show locked bookings, or apply filters to only view select inventory items. After you’ve made your selection, you can export the iCal feed by right-clicking on the link and choosing ‘Copy link location’:

ical feed for checkfront 1
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ical feed for checkfront 2
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ical instructions for checkfront 3
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With this URL, you can connect Checkfront to clients like Google Calendar, Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird, and many more places online; the instructions for how to import the data vary from client to client, but it’s usually quite easy to do. Once synced, Checkfront’s iCal feed will load up to six months of future bookings to whatever calendar you need, and you can configure that external calendar to adapt to changes you’ve made in the Checkfront dashboard. It’s important to remember that Checkfront doesn’t push out your changes automatically, but you can tell the new calendar to search for them and update on a regular basis.

What does this mean?

Here’s where things get interesting, and a little weird. While Checkfront only exports iCal feeds, several other booking sites—like AirBnB and HomeAway—allow you to import them too. It’s a bit of a daisy-chain between Checkfront, your iCal, and the external site; you are exporting a read-only version of your Checkfront listings so that they will be visible in other places you may want to advertise your services. Those other sites must be equipped with the ability to import iCalendar data.

If, for example, you wish to list your accommodation on AirBnB, you can import your Checkfront calendar data and apply it to AirBnB’s own schedule; when customers look at your accommodation, they will not be able to book on a date that’s already been filled by someone using Checkfront on your website. It’s a nice way to avoid accidental double-bookings on their end, although you would need to physically enter any AirBnB reservations into your Checkfront dashboard. The iCal sync is a one-way street, and at this time Checkfront cannot import iCal feeds. You can always direct customers to your website, where they can self-serve book using Checkfront’s forms.

What about iCal Notifications?

If you look in our add-ons section, you’ll see an option for iCal notifications. This is different from the iCal sync option; it gives you the option to attach calendar event requests to your emails, which can be sent out to staff or customers to remind them of upcoming important dates, and require them to accept the event. The iCal feed pushes all of your bookings to your external calendar, and there is no customer/staff interactivity.

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