The Global Distribution System (GDS) is a primary reservation tool for travel agents. And unless you are brand new to the travel business, you probably have used the GDS many times during each work day. But what is GDS, and why is it important to the travel industry?

What do you know about GDS?

GDS is a network/platform that enables travel agencies and their clients to access travel data, shop for and compare reservations options and book travel. GDS networks like the system operated by Travelport generate billions of dollars in global travel sales. 

Through such commerce platforms as the GDS Travelport, agents can access scheduling and inventory of hotels, airlines, car rentals, and (some) railway and bus reservations – in real time. GDS links all those services across the three primary travel reservation sectors (airline, hotel, and ground transportation, i.e., car rentals), and activities.

There are three important GDS systems: Travelport (Galileo, Apollo, Worldspan), Amadeus and SABRE.

The importance of GDS to travel agents?

Imagine a large room with large round tables. Seated around each table are airline reservation employees. As a ticketing request is called in, a reservationist reaches out toward a very large rotating Lazy Susan placed on each table. The Lazy Susan has cubby holes that house index file cards; each card represents an airline flight.

The reservationist pulls a card, marks it to indicate a seat is booked; a ticket is manually written, the phone call is concluded, and the index card is returned to its cubby hole. The process for one reservation takes between 90 minutes and 3 hours. The year is 1953.

The modern GDS system evolved from this early labor-intensive manual system, thanks to the collaborative team efforts of American Airlines (AA) and IBM.  The result of that collaboration? The first airline industry mainframe-based system, SABRE.

Independent travel agents, online agents, and travel agencies now use increasingly more sophisticated GDS systems to search for the best available travel and accommodations and rates for their clients. Agents will make airline and hotel reservations (in real time) for clients, and they will complete their research and bookings within minutes.

Promotional messaging to agents through GDS cores like the most prominent airline national distribution systems (Amadeus, SABRE, Galileo, and Worldspan) alert agents to special rates, fares, and travel packages – an effective marketing tool for passing savings on to agents, and from agents to their customers. 

Not only is messaging through GDSs effective in promoting travel savings to clients, GDS providers are becoming “fundamental to the supply of travel products to retailers in the online channel.”

GDS systems also support high traffic portal travel sites like, Travelocity or Trip Advisor.

The future of GDS?

GDS booking has increased worldwide over the past 4 years yet some industry observers suggest that GDSs may become nearly obsolete by 2020. But like many technology/software-based systems, GDS may evolve, instead.

GDSs may become more of a “direct corporate booking tool” instead of a system used exclusively by travel management companies. 

Technology may refine and tailor engines to target specific travel interests like corporate or leisure travel. Integration methodologies may change, blurring or merging nearly separate functions like booking and in-flight processes.

Technology may also produce new solutions to make data more useful and practical for customers (travel agents) and expand to cover new industries.

GDS is probably not going to fall into disuse anytime soon. Rather, it will continue to evolve as it did from the Lazy Susan system of the 1950s.