Global Distribution System / GDS System is computerized and centralized web service that provide travel related transactions covering airline reservation, hotel reservation, cruise reservation and car rentals. In brief, central reservation systems that book and process the PNR for global airlines are known as Global Distribution Systems / GDS Systems.
Originally, GDS systems were set up for airline reservations but later its extended to process hotels, cars, cruise and holiday packages. GDS system makes it convenient for users to purchase tickets from different airlines or providers thereby forming the backbone of internet based travel booking services. GDS system reaches out to more than 300,000 plus IATA registered travel agents powered by four major GDS networks like Sabre, Amadeus, Worldspan and Galileo. Thus the GDS systems today, are used by travel agents and online customers all over the world to book flights, hotels, rentals and other travel related services. The key point here is that any GDS system will not hold the inventory, but the inventory is held on vendor’s reservation system itself as GDS has real-time access to the vendor’s database.
GDS can also be understood as a network operated by a company that enables automated transactions between booking agents and vendors so as to provide travel related services to end consumers. A GDS system usually links rates, services, bookings consolidating products and services across the major travel sectors like hotel reservations, car rentals, airline reservations and other activities.
GDS system’s primary customers are mainly travel agents, who are either following OTA model or using a web based software to connect to GDS.
To understand, how global distribution system works, take for example the case of Amadeus GDS. Amadeus is used globally by over 90,000 travel agency locations and over 32,000 airline sales offices for distribution and selling of travel services. This service processes more than 480 million transactions per day, which is huge and over 3 million total bookings per day. GDS along with Online Distribution Data or ODD in the form of connectivity modules allow hotels to connect with Travel agents and online customers.
GDS are owned and operated as joint ventures by major airlines, hotel groups, companies and car rentals. Sometimes they are also called as automated reservation system or ARS or computerized reservation system or CRS.
Modern GDS system typically allow users to take advantage of booking hotel rooms, rental cars, airline tickets, as well as for other activities like outdoor tours. They also provide access to railway and bus reservations in some segments of markets, although these are not always integrated with the main system.
For many years, GDS had a dominating position and role in the travel sector. To avoid high GDS fees airlines have started to distribute flights directly from their websites through web services or APIs, thus bypassing GDS to a large extent, another way of bypassing is by facilitating direct connections to the travel agencies.
Author is a travel technology expert and has been involved in several travel portal development projects.