GDS is one of the first abbreviations you learn in the travel business. Global Distribution Systems are responsible for providing booking websites with unified access to a massive inventory of flights, hotel rooms, car rental companies, cruises, and much more.
We’ve tried to load our best intel about flight connectivity and hotel APIs into separate articles, but the GDS topic is relevant to everyone who’s entering the travel booking world. Here’s our guide for understanding the three main GDSs and connecting to them.
What is a GDS?
A Global Distribution System, or GDS, is a computer network operating as a middleman between travel agents and numerous travel service providers. It collects inventory, schedules, and fares from providers and gives agents and OTAs an opportunity to search and book them: using connectivity APIs for OTAs and via a manual terminal for agents.
The idea of a Global Distribution System first appeared due to the necessity to distribute flight tickets. To get a better understanding of how it emerged, how it works, and how to handle it, don’t hesitate to watch our video.
There are numerous large and local GDSs, but we will talk about the three main ones, covering almost every part of the world. They are Amadeus, Sabre, and Travelport (which combines Apollo, Galileo, and Worldspan).
How to Connect to GDSs Step by Step
This is a beginner-friendly guide to starting your travel booking business or at least its online part. Here’s the typical journey when a starting OTA.
Get IATA or ARC accreditation
If you’re not planning to sell flight tickets, feel free to move forward, but for flight booking capability, apply for IATA/ARC certification or consider signing up with a host agency or a consolidator. Being accredited is not mandatory for using a GDS, but, to be recognized as an industry professional and provide ticketing, your OTA should be IATA- or ARC-certified. What are the basic application criteria?
- being an experienced representative of your industry
- acquiring a business license
- meeting the financial criteria, allocating the deposit on a special IATA account.
Your application processing can take months. However, besides the accreditation itself, you obtain a number of benefits such as best pricing rates from over 200 airlines, along with standard invoicing and payment interface between you and suppliers.
Pass the GDS terminal training
For human agents, a global distribution system operates as a command string on a blue (or green) screen. This means that agents must learn the system and understand how to formulate queries to find the best options, all considering their (or their agency’s) personal agreements with suppliers. That is why all of the three major global distribution systems that we’ll later discuss ask for a certified travel agent.
Both GDS providers and third-party training platforms offer courses and certificates. The price also varies, depending on duration and complexity. Usually, GDSs give qualifications to existing partners who attend a training course on particular solutions or knowledge areas.
The certification is obligatory. When the training is successfully completed, a travel agent obtains their own access key to a personal terminal account to work at.
Important: You should look for training giving you certification with an access key, as there are also those for supplementary knowledge. Anyway, it’s all negotiated at the agreement stage.
Sign an agreement
GDSs work in an on-request manner. This means that to get close to custom information or quotations from a GDS, you need to contact them with a prepared report on your business. Your business model, annual revenue, and expected growth are some of the pieces of information you want to include. The problem with GDSs is that they’re the market veterans, so your request may take longer than the connection to alternative inventory providers (which we will cover later). While you wait, try free sandbox solutions that some GDSs provide – we will also talk about the possibilities below.
Negotiate competitive deals
A GDS is basically a hub or a marketplace that connects the interested parties – travel agents, OTAs, TMCs – and suppliers. The success of your GDS cooperation depends on the relevancy of data being submitted by suppliers. So, to obtain the most profitable and beneficial deals from suppliers via GDSs, you should arrange it with suppliers yourself, aside from GDSs.
Now that you’re familiar with the preliminaries, let’s proceed to understanding how each GDS works.
As we’ve already mentioned, there are three major players: Sabre, Amadeus, and Travelport. Here are their differences and common features.
The future success of your OTA partially depends on the diversity of options that you can suggest. After all, a GDS’s main advantage is providing a one-stop shop for various travel services. Here you can compare how broad the industry reach of each GDS is.