The to reach their target market (Wensveen, 2007).

The third
dimension of the marketing mix comprises the process of making the service
available to

customers
(Kottler et al., 2008; Lovelock et al., 2008). In the airline industry this
dimension covers the

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selection
of the right distribution channels which enable the company to reach their
target market

(Wensveen,
2007). The impact of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) on
airlines has

always been
predominant (Poon, 1993; Inkpen, 1994; O’connor, 1999; Wherthner and Klein,
1999

cited by
Sismanidou et al. 2009). Hanlon (2007) strengthens this statement by stating
that selling air

transport
tickets online is among the most successful e-commerce activities. The
introduction of the

first
computer reservation system (CRS) in the 1950s by American Airlines set the
beginning of the

development
of general distribution systems (GDS) (Belobaba et al., 2009) which
revolutionized the

distribution
of tickets. General distribution systems enable intermediaries as travel agents
to access

information
and to book various touristic products like airline tickets and hotel rooms
word-wide.

Today there
are four main GDS called Amadeus, Sabre, Galileo and Wordspan. In the mid-1990s
the

importance
of intermediaries and GDS however decreased as more and more people gained
access

to the
internet. The internet created countless new opportunities to maximize the
performance and

minimize
costs by enabling customers to directly book on the company’s website. Airlines
try to

support
this development by constantly increasing the attractiveness of their
electronic services

(Buhalis
& Law, 2008).To increase the profitability airlines try to switch business
from indirect to

direct
channels. Moreover, they pay lower commission to intermediaries to save money.
Besides

trying to
switch sales from indirect to direct channels airlines tend to lower
commissions rates paid

to travel
agents significantly in order to increase profits (Hanlon, 2007). The process
of selling tickets

directly to
customers without having to pay commissions to intermediaries or GDS providers
is called

disintermediation.
The term re-intermediation refers to travel agencies which conduct their
business

only
online. Sismanidou et al. (2009) argue that airlines will also try to shift
business from online

agencies to
their corporate website. Even though most research rather shows a downward
trend for

intermediaries
Reader (2011) strengthens the dependence of intermediaries on airlines and also

highlights
benefits which result from integrating intermediaries in the distribution
chain. These

include
that intermediaries make the purchasing process much more convenient for
customers and

innovations
regarding selling packages and distinct ways of marketing discounts. Ferrell
& Pride

(2011)
suggest that selling products via intermediaries is more efficient. Wensveen
(2007) however

comes to
the conclusion that the importance of travel agents for the airline industry
will decrease

rapidly. It
is notable that even though passengers increasingly use online channels for
information

search,
offline distribution channels are selected for the booking process due to
privacy concerns

(Kolsaker
at al, 2004- cited by Buhalis & Law, 2008). Bauernfeind & Zins (2006)
and Chen (2006) cited

by Buhalis
& Law (2008) advice companies to ensure that customers perceive their website
as

trustworthy and user-friendly in order to
motivate them to book online.  

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