How Global Distribution Systems Provide Access to Travel

global distribution systems
David A. Kelly

Global distribution systems (GDSs) are computerized networks/platforms that centralize services and provide travel-related transactions. They cover everything from airline tickets, to car rentals, to hotel rooms, and more.

Global distribution systems were originally set up for use by the airlines but were later extended to travel agents. Today, the systems allow users to purchase tickets from multiple different providers or airlines. Global distribution systems are also the back end of most Internet-based travel services.

However, different global distribution systems still service a limited number of airlines. For example, Sabre is used by American Airlines, PARS by USAir, TravelSky by Air China, Worldspan by Delta, etc. Other major global distribution systems include Galileo, TravelSky, and Worldspan. Global Distribution Systems are also sometimes called Computer Reservation Systems (CSRs).

How Global Distribution Systems Work

To see how global distribution systems work, take a closer look at one of the largest—Amadeus. Amadeus was created in 1987 as a joint venture between Air France, Iberia, Lufthansa, and SAS and has grown considerably over the past twenty-five years.

Amadeus is used by over 90,000 travel agency locations and over 32,000 airline sales offices for the distribution and selling of travel services. The service processes more than 480 million transactions per day, and over 3 million total bookings per day. Business travelers benefit from Amadeus by being able to purchase a complete itinerary all at once, rather than having to negotiate with individual travel service providers. As many as 74 million passenger name records can be active at the same time.

In terms of airline partners, Amadeus services leading airlines such as British Airways, Qantas, Lufthansa, and more.

By using the system, reservation options with airlines, hotels and travel services can be accessed in real time and can be coordinated into one itinerary. It's fast and replaces the cumbersome systems of the past which required phone calls to each individual provider to check prices, determine availability, and make a reservation. The difficulty of handling all the arrangements for a trip created a need for the travel agent profession.

The Future of Global Distribution Systems

There's no doubt that global distribution systems will play an important part in the travel landscape for many years to come, but their traditional role is changing and being challenged by all the changes taking place in the travel industry. Two important considerations impacting the role of global distribution systems are the growth of online travel websites that offer price comparisons and the increased push from airlines and other travel service providers to encourage consumers to make bookings directly via their websites.

For example, to recoup additional money, over the past few years many airlines have incentivized travelers to purchase tickets directly from the airline websites. Some airlines are even imposing additional fees for tickets booked through a global distribution system, rather than the airline's website.

While such changes will definitely impact the future growth opportunities for global distribution systems, there will continue to be a role for them as they evolve to meet the needs of travel planners, travel websites, airlines and groups of individuals.