Updated August 2022 – Maintaining high, steady levels of bookings is usually one of the main business goals for many tourism businesses. However, achieving this goal usually requires tourism operators to be creative with their approach to attracting customers. This means that operators would need to be innovative when creating their tourism marketing strategies, business operations and processes, services, product offerings, and more. By doing so, operators will be able to attract new travel customers to book their services.

Now, when we talk about the different types of bookings, the preference for many operators is usually direct bookings. However, in certain cases, indirect bookings may actually help you close the gap in last-minute available slots.

The most effective way to achieve this is by broadening your distribution channels. By doing so, you’re able to maximize the number of your booking streams to thousands of potential customers – whether they’ll be coming from indirect or direct channels.

In today’s article, we’ll go through the 5 main types of tourism distribution channels tour operators can utilize to enhance their booking streams.

What are distribution channels in travel and tourism?

Distribution channels include all the ways you can, directly and indirectly, distribute your tourism products. This could be by taking bookings from customers through your website, through tourism distributors and wholesalers, and even resellers such as large online travel agents or inbound tour operators.

Broaden your distribution channels

Distribution channels are utilized in a variety of industries, as they allow one business to work with a chain of other types of businesses until they are able to reach their targeted consumer. For tour and activity operators, the chain of distribution allows them to access travelers from different market segments that they may not otherwise be able to reach. Ultimately, by utilizing different forms of distribution channels, you’re able to increase your business’s profitability from various channels.

6 main distribution channels for tour operators

1. Visitor information centers

how has the internet changed the distribution of tourism services

Information centers are a popular place for travelers exploring a new destination to receive insight into their new surroundings. In most cases, visitor information centers (VICs) are usually run by the local government or tourism board. Therefore, the details that are being distributed from these venues are most often viewed as trustworthy and reliable sources.

VICs are very common to find and are usually located near the center of the city or in the heart of the destination. They can be easily identified by the infamous “i” symbol that’s usually displayed on a board or a plank around the venue.

The agents who work at these VICs provide travelers with recommendations and information about things to see and do in the area. By partnering with VICs, you can allow these agents to resell your travel products and itineraries, which gives them a chance to earn a commission while you enjoy a boost in bookings.

2. Destination websites

It’s no surprise that the travel and tourism industry in many countries is highly backed by the government. For many destinations around the world, the tourism industry is usually a major contributor to the country’s economic growth. This has prompted many governments worldwide to develop local tourism boards that provide support to tourism businesses within their local area.

With local, state, and national governments recognizing the power of the tourism industry, many have created government-run destination websites to help drive visitors to their area. These websites usually promote the latest information and tourism services that visitors can familiarize themselves with.

By working with these destination management organizations, you can work closely with them to offer your tours and activities as part of their packages. This valuable distribution channel can help you reach both domestic and international travelers looking to book their next travel arrangements.

3. Daily deal sites

Who doesn’t love a good bargain? Voucher and daily deal sites like Groupon and Living Social are a great way to reach budget-savvy travelers who want to score a promotion on a unique experience.

Daily deal sites are a great distribution channel to utilize, especially during the low-season travel period and when you’re looking to fill up last-minute remaining slots. By promoting your services at a special price, it

It’s an affordable distribution channel, but be sure that you craft your promotion carefully. Always limit the number of vouchers that can be sold.

4. Hotel concierges

tourism distribution system

One of the most traditional distribution channels for tour and activity operators but still one of the most reliable are hotel concierges. Working with hotel and accommodation centers will provide your business with the opportunity to promote your services to all their guests.

This strategic partnership is an effective way to maximize last-minute bookings. With the majority of travelers generally not planning their activities until they’ve arrived at their destination, featuring your services at hotels is one way to be found.

One main benefit to working with hotels and accommodation centers is low competition. This is because hotels, especially the bigger names have a reputation to maintain. By referring your business to their guests, your services are ultimately a direct reflection of the hotel’s reputation that they need to maintain. For this reason, accommodation providers only work with a handful of trusted and professional tour operators.

5. Online travel agencies (OTA)

Many operators wonder ‘how has the internet changed the distribution of tourism services?’ and online travel agents are a great answer to this question. Known throughout the industry as OTAs, online travel agents are one of the most powerful online distribution channels tourism and travel businesses have seen within the past decade. They provide travelers with a vast range of travel products all in one place.

Working with OTAs increases your exposure to millions of potential customers looking to book their next travel adventure every day. Generally speaking, most OTAs take their marketing very seriously and are usually very active on social media with a high following. Furthermore, they would normally have a high domain authority, which propels their website to rank at the top of search engine results – allowing you to further boost your discoverability.

Platforms such as Tripadvisor, GetYourGuide, Viator, and Expedia are examples of the travel industry’s main middlemen between you and your customers.

They’ll ultimately help you with marketing your business for you and can help increase your bookings significantly.

6. Retail travel agents

Retail travel agents are smaller travel agents within your area that offer their clients the ability to personalize their itineraries – imagine them as your personal travel planner. Generally speaking, retail travel agents have the ability to book multi-day tours, flights, private charters, and other services surrounding the needs and wants of their customers.

Travel agents are popular amongst travelers looking for assistance when building an itinerary for their upcoming trips. By working closely with local travel agents within your area, you’re able to promote your tours and activities on a personal level to their customers.

Working with local travel agents is excellent as they’re able to provide consistency in incoming bookings. This is because their customers are generally repeat customers, who will oftentimes rebook your services through these agents.

Just like hotels and accommodations, partnering with retail travel agents also has low competition as they don’t work with as many tours and activities providers as online travel agents do. Giving up the upper hand when targeting travelers looking to book via a retail travel agent.

Tourism distribution systems

In order to manage your distribution channels, you will want to invest in an online booking system that also offers innovative online distribution solutions. By doing so, not only will you be able to provide your customers with a streamlined booking journey, but you’ll also be able to simplify your business operations by automating the majority of your admin duties. On top of that, by utilizing a channel manager, you’ll be able to easily oversee your distribution channels and tourism management all from one platform.

For example, Rezdy is an online booking system designed for tour and activity operators, and its Channel Manager allows you to connect with over 25,000 active resellers and provide those agents with your live availability and current rates.

Distribution channels in travel and tourism

Curious to see how you can simplify your booking processes all while broadening your distribution channels? Start a FREE 21-day trial or book a demo with our team of experts today.

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