Updated September 2022 – There’s a dazzling array of ways you can promote and sell your tours or activities these days. But how do you make sense of all the choices? Let’s take a look at the various types of tourism distribution channels, and how each can help you to grow your bookings. 

As a tourism operator you might already be taking bookings in two ways:

  • Directly through your own website, phone number, and social media sites. And,
  • Indirectly through third-party distributors, travel agents, or other sales channels.

There’s no doubt direct bookings play a vital role – but just how important are indirect bookings? 

Over 58.43% of tour and activity operators in the US and Canada work with agents and third-party resellers. This figure is higher for Australia and New Zealand operators, at over 81%.

With growing competition and changing customer expectations, it’s clear that having a website alone won’t cut it for bringing in quality bookings in 2021 and beyond. It’s for this reason that most tour operators turn to distribution channels.  

What is a distribution channel?

what are the main types of tourism distribution channels

Tourism distribution channels encompass all of the indirect ways you can market and sell your tourism offerings, from local visitor centers to large online travel agencies such as TripAdvisor and Expedia. These distributors (or resellers) help get your amazing products to market and in front of more customers.

How it works

While direct bookings may still account for a large part of business, branching out through additional distribution channels can help you to maximize your brand exposure, reduce risk and ultimately boost your bookings. Many distribution channels will have access to much larger marketing spends or broader customer bases, which can lead to more quality bookings for you.

Typically speaking you’ll provide your tour or activity availabilities to distribution channels, and they’ll, in turn, bring in bookings at a pre-agreed commission rate.

Types of tourism distribution channels

What are the main types of tourism distribution channels? These can be grouped into either offline or online categories.

Offline channels

Offline tourism distribution channels include many of the traditional ways to book a travel experience, such as hotels, restaurants, in-person travel agents, and trade events. You might ask to leave flyers, brochures, or discount codes with the reseller, and they can cross-promote or recommend your tours or activities. 

Online channels

Online travel distribution services include review sites like TripAdvisor, daily site deals like Groupon, and online travel agents such as Viator and GetYourGuide. OTAs may be:

  • Destination-specific, such as local to New Zealand or the UK, or
  • Vertical-specific, such as focused on water sports or extreme sports. 

In 2020, the global online travel agent market was worth approximately USD $432 billion. This is forecast to reach over USD $833 billion by 2025, presenting a huge opportunity for the tourism operators who choose to work with them.

Strategic partnerships

tourism distribution channels through partnership

It makes sense to form strategic partnerships with a mix of both offline and online distribution channels, and these partnerships can be rewarding for all parties. 

You might partner up with fellow tourism operators to offer appealing holiday packages at great rates. Connect with hotel concierges in your area and ask them to recommend your experiences to guests. Set up commission rates with multiple OTAs, and reach out to travel bloggers to write about your tours or activities. Multiple, varied partnerships can be a great way of finding what works best for your business.

How can you manage all distribution channels easily?

It can take a lot of time to form and manage strategic partnerships with multiple resellers. Luckily, technology is here to help. A channel manager such as Rezdy’s Marketplace makes it simple to negotiate agreements and manage commissions with a vast range or resellers, from local visitor centers to the big-name OTAs. This also shows live availability of your tours or activities from one dashboard, dropping the risk of pesky double bookings.

Read more: A guide to industry standard commission rates

The chain of distribution

What is the chain of distribution in travel and tourism? This chart (adapted from Tourism teacher) demonstrates how the different organizations in the travel and tourism industry tend to work together. Rather than a rigid structure, this is more of a guideline, because the industry is in constant evolution.

the chain of tourism distribution

Suppliers

Suppliers are the operators who directly produce travel or tourism products. These can include tour and attraction operators, accommodation providers, travel insurance providers, airlines and car hire companies. 

Wholesalers

Wholesalers develop packages of travel products for retailers to sell on, though in some cases they may actually sell directly to the consumer. These packages or itineraries might include tours, activities, accommodation, transport, and/or travel insurance. Wholesalers can include: 

  • Destination Management Organisations (DMOs) or inbound tour operators, such as government tourism boards or tourism authorities
  • Global Distribution Systems (GDSs), which are used by retailers such as OTAs to easily see an inventory of availability from tourism operators.


Resellers

Resellers are organizations that sell travel and tourism products directly to the consumer. These can include in-person and online travel agents, visitor centers, or B2C tour operators such as Intrepid Travel and Contiki Tours. 

Customers

Customers are – you guessed it – the guests who ultimately buy the travel product. These could range from business to leisure travelers, and from domestic to international.  

The way consumers find and book their travel experiences is in constant flux. In fact, these days it’s entirely possible that consumers might connect with travel distribution services at any tier of the chain of distribution. This is one of the reasons it’s so important to maintain a diverse distribution strategy for your tourism business.

Choosing the right tourism distribution channels

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: there really is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all distribution strategy. It’s very useful to maintain a sense of balance in your distribution network and use a variety of distribution channels, so you’re not reliant on any one provider.

travel distribution services

So how do you find the right distribution and marketing mix for travel and tourism businesses?

Consider these questions when considering working with any distribution channel:

  • Can this channel help me to reach my ideal buyer effectively?
  • Can this channel represent or recommend my product accurately? 
  • Could this channel help me to expand into new markets? 
  • Will we be able to work together with a reasonable and competitive commission rate?

It’s also important to ask a few key questions about distribution channels when choosing your tour booking platform, as your choice of platform could either limit or expand your access to resellers. Be sure to ask:

  • How many resellers can you provide access to? 
  • Can I choose and change my mix of distribution channels? 
  • Can I easily negotiate my rates with each individual reseller?

As always, the Rezdy team is here to help with any questions you might have about boosting your bookings. You can book a free demo with a product specialist, or start your free 21-day trial and start connecting with distribution channels straight away.

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