What is the Travel Trade


The Travel Trade is an intermediary or anyone between you (as the product or supplier) and the customer as a tourist:

  • Intermediaries resell tourism product onto end customers
  • Within the inbound tourism industry these people and companies are known as ‘inbound tour operators, wholesalers or travel agents’
  • They in turn work with operators and agents across the world who sell onto the visitors coming to the UK from all international and domestic markets
  • Intermediaries sell individual products ie. hotels or packaged products including hotels, attractions, travel and experiences
  • Travel Trade is an important distribution channel for access to both international and domestic customers
  • Travel Trade intermediaries play a significant part in the consumers decision making process

Travel Trade

The Travel Trade is not a single entity it is a network of different intermediaries and 3rd parties operating a variety of business models in different markets.

TA – Travel Agent | DMC  – Destination Management Company | OTA – Online Travel Agent

Don’t be confused by this we are going to endeavour to demystify and simplify this web of intermediaries for you. 

Wholesaler (B2B)

  • Offer worldwide destinations
  • Focus on large volume sales, accommodation, tours, attractions & itineraries 
  • Have own inhouse product development, contracting and sales teams
  • Pre purchase large accommodation allocations “bed banks” and create tours
  • Usually located in the market they sell too 
  • Link tourism businesses with retail travel agents

So who are we?
Examples include: www.webbeds.com; www.greatdays.co.uk; www.trafalgar.com; www.servicereisen.de


  • Inbound operator “on the ground” in the UK with specialist area knowledge, and supplier relationships
  • Create tour programmes and itineraries that can include local transport, accommodation, attractions and activities
  • Generally, sell business to business to wholesalers and travel agents (but can also offer direct to consumer)
  • Groups and FIT (Fully Independent Travellers)
  • Manage the customers experience while they are in the UK coordinating bookings, reservations, payments
  • Can also be known as ground handlers or inbound tour operators

So who are we?
Examples include: www.abbey.ie; www.asatours.co.uk; https://casheltravel.com; www.excursions.co.uk; www.spectra-dmc.com; experiencescotland.co.uk

Tour Operator (B2C and some B2B)

  • The holiday “in the brochure” and can include travel to the country (if relevant) 
  • Build packages including accommodation, transfers, itineraries and activities in a full or partial programme
  • Contract the suppliers through a wholesaler or direct
  • Sell packages business to business or direct to consumer
  • Bring groups (coach tours) or FIT (fully independent travellers)

So who are we? 
Examples include: www.cietours.com; www.rabbies.com; www.mckinlaykidd.com; www.shearings.com; www.lochsandglens.com; dertour.de 

Online Travel Agency / OTA (B2C)

  • Specialise in selling products online
  • Vast worldwide reach
  • Accommodation, travel, attractions and experiences bookable individually or can be part of a package with some agents
  • Use technology, product innovation and deep market analytics to target and retain customers
  • Mostly contract their own product directly with suppliers
  • Work predominantly with live bookable pricing and bookable allocations

So who are we?
Examples include: www.Expedia.co.uk; www.booking.com; www.viator.com; www.tiqets.comwww.klook.com; www.getyourguide.com 

Travel Agent (B2C)

  • Retail agents, can be niche, specialist, short break operator based in consumers country of origin
  • Organise personal travel and holidays for the consumer, many of whom are loyal regular customers
  • Sell the consumer products created by tour operators and wholesalers
  • Popular with emerging and long-haul markets where they are looking for detailed knowledge of destinations that are less familiar
  • Can create bespoke itineraries as well as sell “off the shelf” tours

So who are we?
Examples include: www.haystravel.co.ukwww.barrheadtravel.co.uk; www.kuoni.co.ukwww.virtuoso.com; VisitScotland Travel Trade – SCOTSagent Home

MICE – Meetings, Incentives, Conference and Events

  • Create travel and itineraries for business events sector
  • Manage all elements including travel, conventions, conference, events, seminars, incentives, workshops and exhibitions
  • Also known as PCO, Professional Conference Organisers and DMC, Destination Management Company 

So who are we?
Examples include: www.andrewburnet.co.uk; www.in-conference.org.uk; https://execspace.co.uk; integrity-events.com  

Types of travellers

Whilst we have spent some time exploring who makes up the network of Travel Trade intermediaries now let’s look at who might actually be travelling.

Group Travellers: Travel as a group usually booked via an operator, itinerary and full holiday structure known and pre booked before they travel.  Groups can be scheduled arriving the same day ever week over agreed time period or ad hoc, one off such as social or special interest groups.

Fully Independent Traveller (FIT):  Individuals who travel independently and like the freedom of making their own arrangements. Itineraries, programmes and some core elements usually partially planned ahead of arrival. Like the independence of planning their own days. Use travel agent or tour operators, word of mouth, social channels to gather ideas. 

Visiting Friends and Relatives (VFR): Travel usually for the main purpose of visiting friends and relatives but once there partake in activities, experiences and can travel beyond the immediate base to reach these.  Rely heavily on friends and families recommendations.

Student and Educational: travel to study, engage in field trips, research, excursions, exchanges. Other tourism elements become part of the trip visiting while in the area. Perhaps more budget conscious travellers.

Niche Special Interest: Travel associated with their special interest or activity.  Tend to book through agents and operators who have specific knowledge and expertise in this field to enable the best experience. i.e. cycling holidays. Bespoke itineraries. 

Budget: Travellers looking to immerse themselves in the travel experience but on a more limited budget therefore looking for accommodation such as hostels, Airbnb rooms and lower prices activities. 

Luxury:  High Spending individuals looking for unique and exclusive experiences, private experiences, chauffeur drive, curated experiences, bespoke unique travel combined with exclusive service etc. 

Business Travellers: Travellers who are visiting for business reasons anything from meetings to conference and events. Often have some leisure time during the trip therefore able to partake in some local activities or experiences. Tend to have good budgets.