Updated May 2023As a tour operator, bookings are your bread and butter. By maxing out your sessions and having high steady levels of bookings all year round, your business will flourish. However, achieving this goal isn’t always easy. It’s even more challenging when you solely rely on one distribution channel.

When it comes to examples of distribution channels in the tourism industry, many operators automatically assume that online travel agents (OTAs) are the only form of resellers available. However, this isn’t the case. Travel distribution channels come in a variety of different types of resellers and distribution strategies. By diversifying your distribution channels and understanding what the main types of tourism distribution channels are, you can maximize your visibility and attract a wider range of potential customers.

In this article, we’ll explore 10 types of distribution channels in the tourism industry that tour operators can use to reach new customers and increase bookings.

Why it’s important to target the right distribution channels

For many tourism businesses, broadening your distribution channels is a smart way to elevate your tourism marketing strategy. By delivering your products via different streams and using valuable third-party integrations, you’re expanding your reach to a bigger pool of potential customers.

Distribution channels are all the different ways that your services get delivered to your customers. There are many types of distribution channels in the tourism industry. A distribution channel can be a direct booking via your website or through third-party resellers within the tourism industry. To put it simply, any platform where your services can be turned into a transaction is considered a distribution channel.

Top 10 distribution channels

As a tour and activity operator, choosing the right distribution channels can greatly impact your business’s success. Below, we’ll take a closer look at 10 of the main distribution network partners in travel and tourism, along with the benefits of each one.

By understanding what the main types of tourism distribution channels are, you’ll be able to make an informed decision when forming partnerships with distributors and finding the right resellers for your products and services.

1. Your website

The chain of distribution in travel and tourism

Don’t underestimate the power of your own website. Unlike other distribution channels, you remain in control of branding and customer experience during the booking process on your website. This enables you to take advantage of booking trends and more accurately finetune your messaging so that it is well received by customers.

Your website also has a direct impact on your business’s reputation. A professionally branded website helps foster trust and authority within the marketplace. Customers will be more willing to book directly through your website if they are welcomed by a mobile-optimized website that enables a seamless booking experience. When supported by a strong SEO strategy, your website can dramatically boost customer impressions of your website and increase overall engagement. 

Tip: When it comes to content, quality always trumps quantity. Don’t fall into the trap of stuffing your blog and website pages with long keywords or boring content. Rather, scatter in relevant keywords and create content that matches the user’s intent when searching for the keywords you are targeting.

2. Online travel agencies (OTAs)

Online travel agencies are one of the biggest players within the chain of distribution in travel and tourism. There are heaps of top online travel agencies you can partner with. These include big names such as Tripadvisor, Expedia, and Viator to name a few. By partnering with OTAs, you can reach a wider audience, regardless of whether you are an inbound or outbound tour operator.

OTAs are one of the most popular travel distribution channels as their websites gain millions of visitors every day. OTAs appeal to travelers as it’s a one-stop shop for both travel and tourism products. By being able to compare the prices of these travel products and book all of them at once, it provides travelers with an easy booking process. And with the majority of customers now booking on their mobile devices, OTAs have made their booking process a lot easier by building their own applications.

Furthermore, with the help of their strong domain authority, OTAs rank at the top of search engine results – making your services quicker and more accessible for customers to book.

tourism distribution channels examples

Tip: The competition on OTA websites is tough. Be sure to display professional-looking photos and videos that showcase your services. Well-written tour descriptions will also go a long way.

3. Tourist information centers

Almost every major city has visitor information centers (or VICS). These centers are a place for travelers to enquire about everything related to the area. From accommodation, tours and activities, transportation, or simply suggestions on things to do. VICS will help visitors in suggesting and organizing itineraries and travel arrangements based on their preferences.

Partnering with VICs helps boost the perception of your business as VICs usually hold an authoritative position in the customers’ eyes. They’re perceived as a trusted source and will most likely trust your business for being affiliated with VICs. It’s for this reason that visitor information centers are great to partner with to broaden your distribution channels in travel and tourism.

Tip: Some VICs don’t ask for commission for bookings that they send to you, while others have a pricing structure to list on their site. Make sure you do your research before you decide to partner with a VIC in your travel distribution channel strategy.

4. Your partner network

Your partner network can include Destination Management Organizations (DMOs), local governments, vendors, hotel concierge services or even other tour operators.

Local government websites, for example, often promote different travel businesses and experiences for tourists visiting a specific location. For example, Tourism Australia helps promote events and businesses every month by featuring them on their monthly e-guide, The Hot List. The Hot List is filled with the latest activities, events, and things to do in Australia and is published each month with new suggestions. 

To expand your business’s travel distribution channels through partner networks, you can simply approach relevant businesses or organizations and enquire about promotional opportunities or partnerships. 

Tip: Travel networking events and tourism conferences are great places to build mutually beneficial partnerships with other businesses.

5. Google

Google manages a variety of tools that can be employed to increase your business’s online visibility. Two of the most useful tools offered by Google that have significantly enhanced the chain of distribution in travel and tourism are Google Business Profile and Google Things to do.

Travel distribution channels

By creating and optimizing a free business profile on Google, companies can encourage more lead generation and boost their visibility for local searches. Business profiles are also valuable when fostering customer engagement as they are open for customers to leave reviews, ask questions, and submit relevant photographs. 

Google Things to do is another free tool that can increase your business’s visibility and allow you to connect with potential customers. This search experience is designed specifically for tour, activity, and other attraction providers looking to increase their distribution channels in travel and tourism. By using Google Things to do, businesses can more seamlessly convert relevant Google searches into direct bookings. 

Tip: When managing your Google Business Profile, it’s important to check it every week or so to ensure that contact details are up to date and that customer queries are answered without delay.

6. Destination websites

The travel and tourism industry has a significant impact on economies worldwide. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that many governments have taken notice and responded by providing support to local tourism businesses.

Many local, state and national governments have recognized the power of the tourism industry by creating destination websites to promote their area to potential visitors. These websites offer a wealth of information on local attractions, events, and accommodations. They may also feature package deals that include tours, activities, and other services.  

As a tour or activity provider, you can benefit greatly from working with these destination management organizations. By offering your services as part of their packages, you can tap into a wider audience of potential customers. This can be especially valuable for businesses looking to attract international travelers who may not be familiar with the local area.

Tip: When reaching out to destination websites, it’s important to do your research first. Take the time to understand their audience, the type of content they feature, and the services they promote. This will help you tailor your pitch and ensure that your tours and activities align with their brand and messaging.

7. Daily deal sites

Who doesn’t love a bargain? Vouchers and daily deal sites like Groupon and Living Social can be a valuable distribution channel for your tour or activity business. These sites offer a platform to reach budget-savvy travelers who are always on the lookout for unique and affordable experiences.

When utilizing daily deal sites, it’s important to create a compelling offer that provides value to the customer while still generating revenue for your business. Consider offering a discounted rate on an activity package or bundling services for a more attractive deal.

However, it’s essential to limit the number of vouchers that can be sold to avoid 

overbooking and ensure a high-quality experience for all customers. Additionally, be sure to set clear expiration dates and redemption instructions to avoid any confusion or frustration among customers.

Tip: Daily deal sites can be especially useful during low-season travel periods and when you have remaining slots to fill up. By carefully crafting your promotion and utilizing this distribution channel, you can attract new customers and generate additional revenue for your business.

8. Hotel concierges

tourism distribution channels

While traditional, working with hotel concierges is a highly effective distribution channel for tour and activity operators. By collaborating with hotels and accommodation centers, you can reach a wide range of potential customers who are looking for things to do during their stay.

This strategic partnership is particularly useful for providing opportunities to maximize last-minute bookings. Many travelers prefer to plan their activities after arriving at their destination, and featuring your services at hotels can help you capture those customers. By making it easy for guests to book your tours and activities through the hotel, you can increase your chances of securing those last-minute bookings.

Another key benefit of working with hotels and accommodation centers is the reduced competition. Hotels naturally have a reputation to maintain, and they typically only refer their guests to a handful of trusted and professional tour operators. Building a strong relationship with hotels through providing exceptional service can secure your business’s place as one of their preferred partners. 

Tip: To effectively work with hotels and accommodation centers, you must first develop a professional and trustworthy reputation. Make sure your tours and activities are high-quality, and prioritize providing exceptional customer service. You can also make it easier for hotels to refer their guests to your businesses by providing them with promotional materials such as brochures and flyers.

9. Retail travel agents

Retail travel agents can be a valuable distribution channel for tour and activity operators. These agents have an established customer base of travelers who are looking for assistance with planning their itineraries. By working closely with local travel agents, you can promote your tours and activities on a personal level to their customers.

One significant benefit of partnering with retail travel agents is that they offer personalized services that cater to their customers’ needs and wants. They have the ability to book multi-day tours, flights, private charters, and other services that complement your tours and activities. This personalized touch can be an excellent selling point for your business and can help you stand out from your competitors.

Another advantage of working with retail travel agents is that they offer consistency in incoming bookings. Their customers are often repeated customers who trust their agent’s recommendations and rebook their services through them. This provides a reliable source of bookings for your business and helps to ensure a steady stream of revenue.

Tip: To successfully work with retail travel agents, it’s essential to build and maintain strong relationships with them. Be sure to provide them with high-quality marketing materials, such as brochures and flyers, that showcase your tours and activities. You can even consider offering incentives or commissions for each booking they make on your behalf. These small gestures can go a long way in building a lasting partnership with retail travel agents.

10. Social media

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn can be an effective distribution channel for your business. With billions of users worldwide, social media platforms provide you with a massive audience to promote your services. By creating a social media marketing strategy that includes relevant hashtags, quality content, and engaging visuals, you can increase your brand visibility and reach a wider audience.

Social media has also become a key platform for customer engagement and communication. Customers expect brands to have a social media presence, and they often turn to social media to ask questions, provide feedback, or voice their concerns. By actively monitoring your social media channels and responding promptly to customer inquiries, you can build trust and loyalty with your audience.

Additionally, social media allows you to target specific audiences through paid advertising. With social media advertising, you can create highly targeted campaigns that reach the right people at the right time. For example, you can target users based on their location, interests, age, gender, and more. This can be a highly effective way to reach new customers and drive conversions.

Tip: Social media is a constantly evolving platform, and what works today may not work tomorrow. It’s essential to stay up to date with the latest social media trends, algorithms, and best practices to ensure that your social media marketing efforts remain effective.

Managing your distribution channels

Working with the main distribution channels in travel and tourism sure has its benefits, but it does come with added work. Connecting with them also comes with a set of challenges. Joining a tour operator marketplace and choosing the right channel manager can help alleviate the stress of setting up your travel distribution channels.

For instance, Rezdy Channel Manager is a marketplace platform designed specifically for tour operators. Through Rezdy Channel Manager, you’ll be able to connect with thousands of resellers and build your distribution channel with a click of a button.

Rezdy’s Marketplace platform simplifies the overall reselling process into 3 simple steps:
1. List your products
2. Set your commission rates
3. Let thousands of agents and resellers resell and promote your products

The good news is that if you’re already a Rezdy booking software customer, you instantly have access to Rezdy Channel Manager. Allowing you to benefit from the best of both worlds – an advanced booking system that will simplify your processes and the ability to instantly connect and manage thousands of resellers from one central system.

Ready to take the step to boost your bookings with Rezdy? Start a FREE 21-day trial or book a demo today.

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