What are Global Distribution Systems?

The travel marketplace remains a global arena where various service providers such as airlines, hotels, car rental companies and more exchange services with travel agents and  travelers. Travel involves flying to newer destinations to discover newer cultures and products. To access these products, travel agents and travelers need a global shelf with millions of travel inventories from which they can choose the best travel products as they plan their trips.

Travelers and agents need a kind of a global supermarket that serves their needs and which they can easily plug into in order to access the latest inventories. In the travel market, computerized reservation services are now the norm in booking and managing property and access of the property to consumers who need the services.

The modern travel market is anchored on an infrastructure consisting of various Global Distribution Systems. These are the online supermarkets linking buyers to travel service providers like airlines, hotels, motels, car hire, train bookings, holidays service providers and more.

So what is a Global Distribution Systems(GDS)? The GDS are companies which provide automated services to travel vendors such as hotels, airlines and car rental companies by building an inventory of products and rtaes that can be accessed and booked by any travel agent that subscribes to that particular Global Distribution System.

The Global Distribution Systems transmit their loaded rates and rules about a specific reservation on the travel agents' websites when customers request them. The travel agents transmit the reservation information through the GDS to the hotel and the hotel then settles the transaction directly with the customer.

To be included in the GDS, the travel vendors must first list their properties with the global distribution system. Normally, travel vendors will employ a GDS Manager in charge of the commercial relations between the service provider and the GDS. In many GDS, signing up is a quick process and the travel provider is only billed when a booking is made through the particular GDS in which they are listed.

Global Distribution Systems are used by over 800,000 travel agents worldwide who plug into the systems to access their travel inventory for sale to their audiences. Most travelers use the internet to research travel options before booking flights. Normally that search or comparison shopping will land them on the website of a travel agent that's plugged into the GDS system.

While the GDS is nowadays associated with the internet due to the tremendous growth of online booking services, the global distribution systems actually preceded the internet and were an invention of the airlines. The airline industry created the first GDS in the 1960s to keep track of flight schedules, availability, and prices. Although accused of being “dinosaurs” due to their use of legacy system technology, the GDSs were actually among the first e-commerce companies in the world facilitating B-2-B electronic commerce as early as the mid 1970s, when SABRE (owned by American Airline) and Apollo (United) began installing their propriety internal reservations systems in travel agencies. Prior to this, travel agents spent an inordinate amount of time manually entering reservations. The airlines realized that by automating the reservation process for travel agents, they could make the travel agents more productive and essentially turn into an extension of the airline’s sales force. It is these original, legacy GDSs that today provide the backbone to the Internet travel distribution system.

To get a rough idea on the process you go through to access your flights on Expedia or Priceline, I have created an illustration of the Global Distribution System to illustrate the online processes in the global distribution infrastructure that ensure you access the cheapest and accurate fares and flight schedule information:



Today, the GDS are at the core of an airline's service distribution and airlines cannot do without these systems. Some of the GDS systems used by the major African airlines are as follows:

Kenya Airways uses Travelport Distribution Systems to sell its travel products to travel agents worldwide. The airline signed a 5 year partnership agreement to distribute via Travelport's Galileo and Worldspan distribution channels.

Ethiopian Airlines uses Sabre Airline Solutions for its online reservations and as its GDS service provider to distribute its travel products to global consumers.

EgyptAir uses Amadeus Altéa GDS  through a long term contract signed a few years ago.

South African Airways uses the Sabre GDS. Last year, South African Airways signed a multiyear distribution agreement with Sabre Travel Network that now provides Sabre travel agencies and corporations in South Africa and around the world with access to South African’s full range of fares, schedules and availability including published fares sold through the airline’s own website and reservations offices.

Some of the Global Distribution Systems
Travelport: With a presence in 160 countries, approximately 3,500 employees and reported 2010 revenues of $2.3 billion, Travelport is comprised of the global distribution system (GDS) business, which includes the Galileo and Worldspan brands and its Airline IT Solutions business, which hosts mission critical applications and provides business and data analysis solutions for major airlines.

Travelport also owns approximately 48% of Orbitz Worldwide (NYSE: OWW), a leading global online travel company. Travelport is a private company owned by The Blackstone Group, One Equity Partners, Technology Crossover Ventures, and Travelport management.


Amadeus: 520 million bookings, 145 airlines, $66billion in global travel sales and $94 billion in all sales channels, 400,000 agency points of sale. 70% or $66 through travel agency channels. Booking charges of less than 2.8%

Sabre: Sabre Travel Network provides technology solutions to the global travel industry. It operates the world’s largest travel marketplace, connecting travel buyers and sellers through the Sabre global distribution system (GDS). Its innovative software connects more than 350,000 travel professionals to more than 400 airlines, 93,000 hotels, 25 car rental brands, 50 rail providers, 13 cruise lines and other global travel suppliers. More than 300 million people purchase airline tickets through this channel annually. www.sabretravelnetwork.com.

Pegasus: Dallas-based Pegasus Solutions, Inc. (http://www.pegs.com) is a leading provider of end-to-end reservation distribution solutions to the hotel industry worldwide. Its services include central reservations systems; third-party marketing and reservation representation services, including Utell and Golden Tulip Worldwide; electronic distribution services that connect more than 38,000 hotels to the Internet and to the global distribution systems (GDS); commission processing and payment services; the consumer travel Web site TravelWeb.com (http://www.travelweb.com); data warehousing and database marketing and consulting services; and soon, a Web-based property management system. Pegasus' customers comprise more than 100,000 travel agencies around the world, including nine of the 10 largest U.S.-based travel agencies(1); more than 40,000 hotel properties around the globe, including 18 of the 20 largest hotel companies in the world based on revenues and total number of guest rooms(2); and more than 240 Web sites/services have contracted to have their hotel reservations Powered by Pegasus™. In addition to its corporate headquarters in Dallas, Pegasus has 39 offices in 25 countries, including regional hubs in Phoenix, London and Singapore. The company's stock is traded on the Nasdaq National Market under the symbol PEGS. 

EmQuest: EmQuest, the travel distribution division of Emirates Airline, manages a large network of brands, content and service offerings that are designed to meet the unique and specific needs of all levels of players within the travel industry. EmQuest provides electronic distribution products and services to the travel industry, connecting suppliers with resellers and giving them a platform to exchange content and trade with one another.

Navitaire: Navitaire was founded in 2003 and has been developing Global Distribution Systems particularly tailored for the low cost airlines market(LCCs). Its reservations system now powers some of the largest LCCs in the world. Airlines using Navitaire's reservation systems booked more than 70% of all sales transactions via the Internet. Navitaire reservations systems booked more than 320 million reservations in 2009, more than 4.5% of the world's total population!

Patheo: Patheo was one of the leading data management and distribution solution company in the airline consolidator industry.  Patheo featured a complete, integrated product line serving both the travel agency and the consolidator with end-to-end solutions. Patheo was founded in 1996 and is headquartered in Westminster, CA.

TravelSky: TravelSky Technology Limited, a unit of China TravelSky Holding Company, develops leading edge applications and services that enable electronic transactions and the management of travel-related information for companies across the travel industry. TravelSky operates passenger services systems for air carriers in China, and maintains the global distribution system (GDS) for China's travel agencies, processing more than 200 million passengers annually. Customers include 30 domestic airlines, approximately 200 regional and international airlines, 147 domestic airports and 7,000 ticket agents. Services reach into 300 cities in China, 80 international cities and a growing range of social networking sites. TravelSky is headquartered in Beijing and has more than 4000 employees.

In addition, there are several smaller or regional GDSs, including SITA’s Sahara, Infini (Japan), Axess (Japan), Tapas (Korea), Fantasia (South Pacific), and Abacus (Asia/Pacific) that serve interests or specific regions or countries. In this article, we will provide a closer look at the four major GDSs.
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