Updated January 2023A tourism distribution channel refers to the stakeholders and methods involved in taking a tourism product from the supplier to the consumer. Typically, the chain of distribution in tourism refers to the businesses and platforms involved in selling, distributing, and bundling tourism products. However, more components are involved across the entire distribution chain, including suppliers, wholesalers, resellers, and consumers.

By aligning your business with existing distribution channels, you connect with important stakeholders in the industry. This creates more efficiency in your marketing efforts and ultimately grows your tourism and activity business.

What is a distribution channel?

what are the main types of tourism distribution channels

Tourism distribution channels are the avenues tourism products and services are made accessible to consumers. Typically, tourism products are sold directly by the primary provider or through a series of intermediaries. If brokers or travel wholesalers are involved, this is called indirect distribution. Consumers can access these products via various mediums, including traditional channels such as travel agents, government bodies such as information centers, and even other tour and activity operators.

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 spend or broader customer bases. This can provide you with access to more exposure and quality bookings.

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

The chain of distribution

The chain of distribution in tourism refers to the businesses and platforms involved in selling, distributing, and bundling tourism products. This process begins with the primary tour and activity provider all the way to the end consumers experiencing it.

Generally, there are four steps to the distribution chain:

1. Suppliers/principals

2. Wholesales

3. Resellers

4. End consumers

The distribution chain for a particular product can go through all of the steps depending on its distribution channel. For example, direct distribution won’t require wholesalers or resellers, as suppliers sell their products directly to consumers, whereas indirect distribution requires intermediaries.

the chain of tourism distribution


Suppliers or principals include the primary providers across accommodation, transportation and car hire companies, attractions, and experiences. Examples include hotels, Airbnb hosts, airlines, and the attractions such as the Empire State Building. 


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), are used by retailers such as OTAs to easily see an inventory of availability from tourism operators.


Resellers purchase and bundle experiences to be sold directly to the consumer. A common example includes traditional travel agents, which create personalized travel packages. However, online travel agents (OTAs) such as Expedia and Tripadvisor are more commonly used these days. They provide accessibility to a range of tourism products such as airline tickets, hotel bookings, tours and activities, and more.


Consumers are the most critical component of the distribution chain. That is because they are the end user of the product. The choices and decisions consumers make have a huge impact on the rest of the distribution chain. Trends in consumer behavior, or individual decisions all influence how tourism products are marketed and sold.

Advantages of tourism distribution channels

Broadening your distribution channels involve heaps of advantages. Here are the top five:


By aligning your tour and activity business with the broader industry, you can connect with important stakeholders across every step of the tourism distribution chain. Forming strategic partnerships with resellers and tourism platforms enables you to access a broader customer base. This provides you with a greater opportunity to increase your sales. 


Generating 100% of your revenue via direct marketing requires a great deal of investment in time and money. Existing distribution channels generally have larger marketing budgets that they can spend to attract more customers.

Typically, as the supplier, you’d only pay a fee when a booking has been made via their channel – making your marketing and sales costs predictable. This means you gain additional resources to expend on other areas of your business, such as improving your customer experience.


Given the wide array of potential partners, you have the freedom and flexibility to test and experiment with different methods of promoting your business. Plus, it’s more convenient for your customers to book your services through an array of trusted partners. This helps to increase customer loyalty and satisfaction.


Utilizing existing distribution channels can make the entire booking process more transparent for both you and the end consumer. On the tour operator side, it provides you with a clearer understanding of your customer behavior and adjusts your marketing strategies for better outcomes. And on the customer side, information such as reviews displayed on your profile allows them to create informed decisions before choosing to book your services.


Promoting your tourism products via numerous distribution channels means that your customers can book your services where they like; when they like. Furthermore, your products and services will be found across multiple avenues – enabling a wider array of customers to book with you. In fact, operators are using an average of 14 distribution channels according to Arival’s Operator Insights 2021-2022 report.

What are the main types of tourism distribution channels?

tourism distribution channels through partnership

There are many ways to get in front of customers, even more so since the rise of digital channels. From travel agents to mobile apps, tourism suppliers have never had more choices regarding promoting their products and services. There are four main distribution channel types. These include:

Traditional channels

Traditional distribution channels often refer to real-world marketing channels separate from online and mobile experiences. Indirect traditional distribution channels can include travel distribution services such as travel agents, tourism information centers, flyers and print/digital brochures, promotional marketing services, and tour operators. Depending on your products and services, wholesalers can also make up part of your business’ traditional distribution channel. 

Online channels

In recent years, online travel agencies (OTAs) have dominated the tourism industry. These online experiences allow users to plan, book, and pay for personalized travel plans through an easy-to-use centralized platform. Often flights, hotel bookings, car hire, and local experiences can be bundled and purchased through a single site, making the process convenient and intuitive. These platforms can also be cheaper due to the relatively low cost of maintaining a website over a brick-and-mortar travel agency. 

Mobile channels

Like online channels, mobile distribution channels rely on digital platforms, such as apps, to promote and sell tourism products. Many popular mobile apps which centralize the tourism buying experience have cropped up in recent years. In addition, airlines, hotels, and other major suppliers have begun developing apps to improve customer loyalty and engagement. Other forms of mobile marketing can include SMS marketing, mobile advertising, and cold calling.

Direct channels

Direct marketing and sales channels include anything your business has direct control over and does not involve an intermediary. This type of marketing can occur through traditional, online, and mobile mediums. For example, direct online channels can include your website, direct bookings via a booking system, online chat assistance, and your social media accounts.

While direct marketing efforts via mobile can consist of sending promotional text messages to previous customers, cold calling potential customers, and sending personalized email marketing messages. More traditional measures may include brochures and flyers, a storefront, and salespeople.

Choosing the right tourism distribution channels

As a tour company, it’s essential to understand which distribution channels will achieve the most significant results for your business. While trial and error can bring results over the long run, understanding what makes a channel right for your business can accelerate your path to success. 

travel distribution services

Identify target market

To understand whether online or offline marketing, direct or indirect distribution, or mobile versus online platforms are best for your business, you need to understand your customers.

Demographics such as age, country of origin, the number of travelers in a party, and the number of children arriving can greatly impact how you communicate and effectively sell your services. For example, an older demographic may be more likely to use traditional channels such as a travel agent, while a young family might be found via online and social media. First, check over your previous customers and try to pull out any obvious trends amongst your clientele, then research which channels best suit your audience.

Research channels

It’s important to research which channels are available to promote your services. But also, it’s essential to understand the reputation of your potential strategic partners. When engaging in indirect marketing, you are aligning your brand with your distributors, so choosing platforms and businesses which align with your values is important. It’s also essential to understand the costs and benefits of each channel and make informed decisions based on what will work for your business. 

Evaluate costs and benefits

Each platform and distribution channel will have different pricing models. Some may charge a flat fee for promotional services, others may purchase and resell your services, while others may charge a fee when you receive a booking. It’s essential to understand what level of return you can expect. If you are starting out, finding performance-based pricing options will allow you to pay as you go. Alternatively, flat fee services can sometimes provide a higher return as your budget can go directly to marketing spend.

Track performance

Once you choose one or more channels to distribute your services, ensure you track the performance versus how much it costs to attain them. By understanding the performance of your partnership, it enables you to eliminate ineffective channels and double down on your marketing efforts, thus, cutting you costs.

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 Channel Manager can be accessed regardless of your booking system or size of business, and makes it simple to negotiate agreements, manage inventory, rates and manage commissions with a vast range of resellers, from local visitor centers to the big-name OTAs. Live availability of your tours, activities or attractions are visible from one dashboard, dropping the risk of pesky double bookings as well.

You can access the broadest reach of resellers in the industry, connect with desired resellers and easily distribute rates and availability in real-time. Rezdy is integrated with a number of alternative reservation systems and is continuously adding more, providing suppliers access to channel management tools, directly from their existing system. Suppliers with a custom built booking system can connect with Rezdy Channel Manager as well. For Rezdy booking software customers, channel management is included. 

Find out more about how Rezdy’s channel management platform can support your business.

Ready to  join the thousands of Rezdy customers that managed to grow their bookings by over 25% in 2022? Book a free channel manager demo with a product specialist to see how our products can fit the needs of your tour business. If you are interested in Rezdy’s booking software that includes channel management, you can start a free 21-day trail trial.

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