Selling your product to international visitors is different to selling to domestic visitors. Domestic sales channels such as visitor information centres, hotel booking desks and online booking sites may also capture some international visitors. However, to really be successful as an export ready product and grow your business from international visitors, you need to understand and sell your products via the international travel trade. This is selling through the inbound distribution system.

Who are the travel distributers?

Retail travel agents (retailers)

  • Retailers are either based overseas or in Australia and provide customers with an accessible place to book or enquire about travel products
  • These agents usually provide a shopfront for customers in shopping centres and local town centres, or an online sales channel
  • When working internationally, tourism businesses do not normally contract with an international travel agent directly, but through an Australian inbound tour operator (ITO) or sometimes directly with an overseas wholesaler
  • Participating in the Aussie Specialist Training program is important to educate retail agents about your business.
  • Tourism businesses can work directly with an Australian retail travel agent, or through an Australian wholesaler


  • Wholesalers provide retailers with travel packages comprising two or more products supplied by different operators
  • These packages are put together in brochures, which are then distributed to networks of retail travel agents for display in their travel agencies
  • Wholesalers that provide packages for the inbound market are generally based overseas and sell through retail travel agents based overseas, while Australian-based wholesalers such as Qantas Holidays sell to retail travel agents within Australia. Some wholesalers, such as Qantas Holidays, also sell directly to customers.

Inbound tour operators (ITOs)

  • Inbound tour operators are sometimes referred to as ground operators, ground handlers or destination management companies. Australian-based businesses that negotiate contracts directly with tourism suppliers on behalf of overseas wholesalers
  • They are responsible for developing itineraries specifically for international travellers. ITOs provide a complete, costed travel itinerary that is marketed to customers through international wholesalers and retail travel agents
  • They usually coordinate itineraries about 6-12 months in advance and require inbound rates to be supplied for the tourism calendar year of 1 April to 31 March. This is linked to the wholesaler’s brochure production
  • ITO’s oversee all itinerary planning, product selection, booking all travel arrangements and working directly with suppliers.

Online travel agents

  • Many traditional travel distributors such as wholesalers and retail travel agents are taking an online approach as well as offering their services from a retail shopfront. There has also been an increase in online travel agents who operate solely in the online environment
  • Online travel agents specialise in online distribution and have no intermediaries – they deal directly with customers and tourism product. Customers can purchase a product or an entire holiday package online
  • Online distribution is less structured than the traditional travel distribution channels. Commission levels vary, depending on how the site is operated
  • Before establishing a distribution deal with any online partners, research the site, how it operates and how it will promote your product. Also check how information is loaded and updated. Many sites provide you with access to maintain and update your details on the site.
Main Beach, Byron Bay. Credit: Destination NSW

How can I sell my products to international visitors?

Distribution is the process of marketing and supplying products through various channels. Customers, domestic and international, can find your product through a range of distribution channels either before they arrive in your destination or after. These can include:


Customers can book your product through a hotel travel desk, visitor information centre booking service or other supplier after they have arrived in your destination.


Customers can book your product through a retail travel agent, such as Flight Centre, after arriving in Australia. In this instance, your business is contracted with a domestic wholesaler that has loaded your product onto its system. Its Australian retail travel agent network sells your product to its customers at the shopfront.


  • Your business is distributed and sold through your contracted online travel agents (OTAs) such as
  • Bookings can come directly to your business via and through a booking engine attached to your business website
  • Bookings can come directly from customers to your business through a booking engine attached to your business website
  • Bookings can also be made directly via email, where you confirm directly with your customer
  • Increasingly, retail travel agents also sell online.


International visitors may also find and book your tourism product before departure by:

  • Booking through a retail travel agent based in their home country
  • Booking through an online travel agent (OTA) actively marketing to their region of origin.

When an international visitor books through a retail travel agent in their home country, traditionally the following distribution process applies:

  • Your export ready product is contracted with an Australian based inbound tour operator (ITO)
  • This ITO works on behalf of an international wholesaler
  • This international wholesaler includes your product in a brochure, which is displayed in the shopfronts of international retail travel agents to sell your product to their customers
  • The international retail travel agent books with the international wholesaler, which in turn books through the ITO based in Australia
  • The ITO contacts your business to book your product for the customers.
  • Your tourism product needs to be export ready to be sold through this process.

How are products sold through the inbound distribution system?

The inbound tourism distribution system has traditionally been very structured with clearly defined functions for each role in the chain.

While this is changing, particularly due to the growth in online travel agents, and additional distribution channels and technology, it is important to first understand the traditional structure.

The Inbound Distribution System:

  • Bookings via an ITO: International visitor books with a retail travel agent based overseas. The retail travel sends the booking request to the overseas wholesaler. The overseas wholesaler sends the booking request to their Australian based inbound tour operator, its Australian specialist, to cost and package. The inbound tour operate then sends the booking to each product supplier for confirmation.
  • Bookings via an OTA: International visitor books with an online travel agent providing instant confirmation to the visitor at the same time automates the booking confirmation via a booking software engine to the product supplier.
Lord Howe Island. Credit: Destination NSW

What costs are involved in inbound tourism?

The cost of pursuing inbound tourism business generally falls into two categories:

  • Sales cost (commissions)
  • Marketing cost (trade sales activity)


A commission is the cost of distributing your product. It is the fee paid to the inbound tour operator, wholesaler, retail and online travel agents to sell your product. It is their income and pays for their operations and the services they provide when they promote and sell your product.

Commissions should be considered as part of your overall marketing mix. They are a marketing cost, but unlike advertising you only pay them when you receive a booking.

While paying a commission may sound daunting, it is actually the cost of doing business with your trade partner.

In return for a commission, your trade partners are providing you with:

  • Increased exposure of your product
  • through their distribution network (e.g., in travel agent brochures or websites)
  • An offshore sales team and platform to promote and sell your product
  • The opportunity to sell to a significantly larger section of the market than is generally possible to reach directly.

Typical commissions

  • Retail travel agent: 10%
  • Wholesaler: 20%
  • Inbound Tour Operator (ITO): 30%
  • Online Travel Agent (OTA): 20%

Please note information on commission levels is intended as a guide only.

To work with inbound distributors, you should set up a rate structure that allows for a commission to be paid to your trade partners for each booking that is made.

Commissions do vary between channels, however the above mentioned is the typical commissions that you would pay at each level, if they made a booking direct with you.

The highest commission typically paid is 30% to an inbound tour operator (ITO), which would share that commission with its wholesale and retail partner making the booking. Commissions for online travel agents can vary from 15-20%

It is also worth noting that paying 30% commission is not equal to sacrificing 30% of revenue, unless every single booking you take is through an ITO.

When you take into account your direct bookings at full price, then you will find that the average commission paid across all of your distribution is much lower than 30%.

Trade Sales Activity

Like many things, an investment of time and effort can return great results over time. Export ready businesses usually set aside staff and budget resources to build trade partnerships, generate inbound interest in their products and boost sales as a result. This can mean investing time and budget to:

  • Develop trade sales collateral
  • Travel overseas to meet wholesalers and retailers on trade missions
  • Make sales calls
  • Attend sales workshops
  • Attend trade events.

A business that does not invest any resources in trade sales activity for the inbound market is unlikely to see the same level of inbound sales growth as one that does.