29 SERVICE CANNIBALIZATION IN TOURISM – Contributions by Estrella Díaz Sánchez

The field of service cannibalization in tourism is a topic in which I began to have a special interest after the development of my doctoral thesis. Service cannibalization is a theme that has mainly emerged since the development of the Internet and new technologies. This concept will become fundamentally important in the future with the development of intelligent technologies and their implementation in the tourism sector. To understand the concept of service cannibalization, it is necessary to answer a series of questions: Can online or electronic channels decrease the sales of other traditional distribution channels? In what sense can the use of technologies replace frontline employees? Answering these questions has led me to explore this concept further throughout my academic career.

In the next paragraphs you will find the conceptualization of the term service cannibalization that I have personally brought to the field of tourism. Subsequently, a description of my academic career will be shown so that you can get to know a little bit more about me. Although throughout my research and teaching career I have focused on different lines of research, I wanted to show you an infographic with the main milestones to highlight in my academic career in the field of tourism. I hope that from this chapter I will be able to transmit and spread to all of you the passion and enthusiasm I feel for the tourism field.

The concept of service cannibalization

Service cannibalization is defined as the challenge posed by the addition of an online channel to the distribution system of a company or/ and alternative sector or/and product and the displacement of sales caused. It reflects the seller’s perception of the extent to which sales opportunities are lost to alternative channels or products (Sharma and Gassenheimer, 2009). When a firm or sector begins selling products through the Internet, existing channels suffer, and sales agents are likely to perceive a loss of market share and customers to alternative/ online sales.

Many industries have implemented electronic business methods and introduced multichannel strategies to counter the increasing importance of online channels (Brun et al., 2020). Smart technologies have radically changed service ecosystems (Buhalis, 2020), transforming, and disrupting traditional service practices. New business models have been created, including the disintermediation of the services industries and the emergence of electronic intermediaries. Omnichannel distribution has become the norm, despite causing conflict among industry actors. Conflict between alternative distribution channels suggests that sales agents perceive service cannibalization because of changes to their roles and a reduction in organizational turnover and sales. Few empirical studies address the cannibalization of distribution systems in the wake of the introduction of online channels. The majority analyze cannibalization in an organization’s multichannel distribution system, without examining the effects of cannibalization on the industry.

However, the integration of electronic and offline channels brings substantial risks to the travel industry. Multichannel systems have detrimental effects on various tourism-related stakeholders. Customers might choose travel websites over travel agencies (i.e., retail outlets) because online channels have more appealing features such as enhanced information searches. Hybrid demands through online and offline channels lead to cannibalization of sales. Sales shift from physical travel agencies to websites (i.e., airlines, hotels, car rentals, online travel agencies, etc.) as they provide more features and offers to customers. Conversely, online channels increase competition because consumers have better and quicker access to efficient shopping through comparison websites.

Tourism has undergone a radical transformation and has made a revolutionary but also disruptive move towards the use of communication infrastructures and interactive digital technologies, widely known as the smart revolution (Buhalis et al., 2019). Many tourism organizations employ smart technologies and have introduced omnichannel strategies, transforming and disrupting the ecosystem (Buhalis, 2020). The smart revolution opens the possibility of a profound transformation in the ways individuals and organizations behave, operate, and connect. Providing alternative distribution channels in the tourism industry generates an advantage to customers about their choices of information or sales channels. Online channels allow tourism companies to consolidate existing markets and expand into new ones. The digital transformation was intensified during the COVID-19 lockdowns that forced people to work, shop and socialize online.

Most companies see multichannel initiatives with the use of online channels and smart tools as a stimulus to improve customer relationships (Tojib and Khajehzadeh, 2017). Others, however, are concerned about the detrimental effects of multichannel distribution. The use of online tools can lead to the substitution of conventional channels by Internet platforms, resulting in the cannibalization of traditional channels. The theory of structuration suggests that the prevailing socio-cultural norms of the employer-employee relationship shapes capital relations. This theory explains the relationship between the individual, society, and the markets. Structuring theory investigates the importance of contextual nuances in behavior and examines several aspects of the influence of the Internet and e-commerce on organizational performance on different behaviors such as the employee-employer relationship. The effect of online channel implementation depends on the forms of power relations existing in the organization. For example, when employees consider that technology is a threat, the meaning they attribute to it can negatively influence performance.

The consequences of tourism-related companies’ multichannel strategies have been examined largely in terms of outcomes at company or customer levels, but not on the part of sales agents. By contrast, the Internet threat perceived by sales agents might lead to consequences that affect the agents themselves. Traditional service providers in tourism organizations may view various types of online media and devices as unexpected rivals and may reduce their support for the organization’s existing customers, further affecting the organization’s sales volume. Sharma and Gassenheimer (2009) investigated the effect of Internet cannibalization perceptions on employee performance. They identified some mechanisms of cannibalization:

  • Online media offer additional attractive advantages to users, so that customers can move away from more traditional or face- to-face channels involving employees. The advantages include relevant information about product or service attributes, increased personalization, and time savings.
  • As different online media make it easier for consumers to compare prices between different companies, sales can move from traditional channels through sales agents to online media. Online prices for similar products are often lower than those of traditional outlets.
  • The Internet shopping experience reduces the consumer’s tendency to make impulse purchases, which can affect cumulative sales figures.
  • Information and communication technologies (ICTs) provide targeted customers with abundant information about the service’s appeal, greater customization and time savings, reducing the need for human interaction with organizations.

Within the tourism context, Díaz, Martín-Consuegra and Esteban (2015) analyzed the concept of service cannibalization. They found that sales agents’ perceptions of declining sales led to a series of consequences, including risk aversion, job insecurity, job satisfaction, job alienation and lack of travel agent effort and training. Travel agents’ perceptions of service cannibalization correlate with some consequences for travel agents and disparities in these relationships according to the type of travel agency. Díaz, Martín-Consuegra and Esteban (2017) suggest that sales agents’ perceptions of service cannibalization influence employees and have repercussions such as service sabotage. This reinforces the importance of travel agency managers being able to detect sales agents’ perceptions and mitigate the negative consequences on employees. This is particularly important in multichannel marketing in which online marketing channels coexist with traditional sales forces in the tourism context. The integration of electronic channels and smart technologies with traditional channels is accompanied by substantial costs and increased risk.

Perceptions of service cannibalization are particularly relevant since the Internet shift’s role responsibilities and affects the security of traditional jobs, which can be motivationally detrimental to sales agents. Advances in automation, sensors, deep-learning algorithms, and smart devices are making service company employees obsolete in their traditional service delivery positions, reflecting the intention to replace human input in the service encounter. Thus, technology could increase the quality and efficiency of the service meeting, bypassing the inherent variability of human performance. As smart systems provide increasingly advanced services, jobs are seen to be threatened, which in turn increases employees’ perceptions of service cannibalization.

However, new opportunities emerge in different service settings as innovation is driving service delivery as part of business model of disruptions and evolutions (Buhalis, 2020; Buhalis et al., 2019). Insights regarding perceived cannibalization and its possible consequences on sales agents’ motivation should be addressed. Appropriate measures should be taken to counteract salespersons’ perceptions of cannibalization and the identification of opportunities for ecosystems and all stakeholders to evolve. Incentives and training for all stakeholders affected should improve their skills and competence, enabling them to operate in the new digital marketplace. In this context, it is necessary to explore the role of cannibalization through the integration of offline and online channels and to identify new opportunities for all stakeholders.

My career in brief

I am a distinguished researcher at the University of Castilla-La Mancha (Spain) and a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Senior Global Fellow. Currently, I am developing a tourism project in San Diego State University (United States) and the European Travel Commission (Brussels). I am leading the EU Horizon 2020 project “Smart Tourism Challenges: The Effects of Digital Revolution on Consumer Experience and Business Competitiveness” (SMARTOURISM) as Principal Investigator (PI). Previously, I have worked as associate professor of marketing at the University of Castilla-La Mancha (Spain) and have carried out pre-and post-doctoral teaching and research stays at Bournemouth University (UK), University of Richmond (United States), University of Florence (Italy), and San Diego State University (Unites States). I am currently accredited as full professor in the social sciences field.

After completing my bachelor’s degree in Business Administration at the University of Castilla-La Mancha (1999-2004) in Spain, including an academic year at the Università Degli Studi di Torino (Italy) through an Erasmus grant, I started my Ph.D. at the Department of Business and Marketing. Fortunately, perhaps by a stroke of luck or fate, in 2005, a few months after starting my doctoral program, I was awarded a research grant for postgraduate students by the Vice-Chancellor’s Office of Research at the University of Castilla-La Mancha. This allowed me to join the marketing department as a Ph.D. student. Concurrently with my doctorate, and with the aim of improving my training, I took a master’s degree in MBA and Human Resources Management, a master’s degree in Cultural and Interior Tourism and a master’s Thesis in Business Management at the University of Castilla-La Mancha. Subsequently, in 2008, I was granted a scholarship from the Spanish Tourism and Finance Ministry to carry out scientific research in the field of marketing, new technologies, and tourism.

Since the beginning of my studies, I have always placed importance on the international aspect of any discipline, and so I decided to transmit this in my research career. One of the aspects in which this international vision was conveyed was the importance of carrying out international research stays. In this sense, I thought it was necessary to carry out an international pre-doctoral stay to learn from other contexts and develop not only academically but also personally. After attending a Marketing conference in Bournemouth (UK) in 2009, I contacted one of the most relevant lecturers in Tourism Marketing at that institution to request an invitation for a pre-doctoral stay and to work with her team at Bournemouth University. I was invited for 6 months in 2010, receiving funding through research grants from the University of Castilla-La Mancha. This experience also allowed me to participate as a lecturer in four seminars given to teachers and researchers at Bournemouth University.

At the end of 2009, another piece of good news arrived, perhaps another nod from fate, with the opportunity to obtain an assistant position in the marketing department at the University of Castilla-La Mancha. This enabled me to continue my doctoral thesis with a little less uncertainty, facilitating the continuation of my academic career after the defense of my doctoral thesis. On June 15, 2012, I defended my doctoral thesis entitled “Service Cannibalization in Travel Agencies. Analysis of its Consequences on the Employee” with a qualification of outstanding Cum Laude and obtaining the mention of international doctorate. However, I was aware that the great effort in an academic career does not end with the defense of the Doctoral Thesis. Obtaining the Ph.D. is the culmination of work, the end of a training stage full of personal, family, and professional efforts and sacrifices, which places us at the top of the academic and scientific pyramid. But at the same time, it places us at the starting point for creating, developing, and undertaking new and innovative projects in our field of knowledge. Thus, although during the pre-doctoral stage I had already considered the importance of training, it was in the post-doctoral stage in which I made a greater effort to improve her knowledge and skills through training. This training has been underpinned by the attendance of courses and seminars, as well as to national and international conferences. In this way, I have accumulated more than 1,800 hours of training and have participated in more than 50 national and international conferences organized by prestigious organizations.

As I have previously stressed, the international aspect was the key and foundation on which I wanted to build my research career. Sometimes, it is necessary to step outside our comfort zone to appreciate the existence of other work environments and contexts, different perspectives, and become more aware of the direction of your own research. Accordingly, I felt the need after the defense of my doctoral thesis to do another postdoctoral stay. In this case, I decided to go to the United States. I contacted one of the most prestigious professors in the field of international marketing with whom I had coincided in another conference and in 2013 he invited me for 6 months to the University of Richmond in Virginia (United States). In this period, the economic situation in Spain was challenging and more complicated and I did not receive any kind of funding to carry out this research stay. From this moment on, a few very fruitful years for my research career would begin. I started to focus my research along four different lines. Three of them I had already started with my publications during her pre-doctoral stage and the development of my Ph.D. Later, I did a research stay at San Diego State University (United States) for 6 months in 2017, invited by one of the pioneers in analyzing marketing communication. This international vision that has always been the focus of my research career was reflected in the different publications of articles and books, leading collaborations with researchers from several countries.

Throughout my teaching and research academic career, another fundamental element that I have always tried to keep in mind is the relationship between academia, the business world, and society. Thus, I consider it essential that the knowledge acquired through research is returned to the economic and business sphere and that business entities collaborate with academic organizations. It has been extremely worthwhile being able to participate in 17 collaboration and consultancy agreements with various institutions and organizations. Particularly, there have been two research projects that have marked my scientific career, intensifying my leadership skills. First, a project linked to the use of new technologies by companies in Castilla-La Mancha, financed by the Castilla-La Mancha Parliament in 2015 with a duration of two years and which allowed me to be the main researcher of a research project. This gave me independence as a researcher as well as enhancing my planning and organization skills, all very important attributes in the academic field. The second was the award of a European project as a principal researcher. Specifically, this project is a Marie Curie Global Fellowship action within the Horizon 2020 program granted by the European Commission. This research examines the effect of smart technologies in the field of tourism from two perspectives, consumers and organizations, in the United States and Europe.

My research activity has been focused on four lines of research: (1) Consumer behavior, (2) Commercial distribution and logistics management, (3) Communication and application of new technologies, and (4) Tourism marketing. Beyond the focus on these four lines, I consider that interdisciplinary research is essential for the advancement of science. Regarding research activities, I have published 34 indexed publications included in the Journal Citation Reports, JCR (SSCI/SCIE) and SCImago Journal Rank, SJR (Scopus). These scientific publications are completed with 1 book and 6 book chapters. I have been making regular scientific contributions since the beginning of my academic training, but I would like to place particular emphasis on the frequency of publications in the last six years, mainly due to the collaboration with professors of international prestige located in 7 different countries (United States, Italy, Portugal, North Korea, China, United Kingdom and Spain) and the relevance of the publishers (Elsevier, Emerald, Sage, Taylor & Francis or Palgrave). The quality of my research activities has been rewarded with ten research awards and honors, including 2019 Highly Commended Award for Emerald Publishing, 2017/18 Top Downloaded Article Award for Wiley publishing, and 2014 Highly Commended Award Winner for Emerald/EFMD Outstanding Doctoral Research Awards. During the last few years, there has been an intensification of activities related to the dissemination of research activities in society.

I have collaborated as a member of several scientific associations: Spanish Association of Academic and Professional Marketing (AEMARK); European Marketing Academy (EMAC); American Marketing Association (AMA); Society for Marketing Advances (SMA); Marie Curie Alumni Association (MCAA); Spanish Association of Market, Marketing and Opinion Studies (AEDEMO); Research group Research and Modelling in Marketing and Tourism of the University of Castilla-La Mancha and; Spanish Scientists in the USA (ECUSA).

Alongside my research, one element that I have tried to consider and improve in parallel throughout my academic career is teaching. I have participated in 14 full-time academic courses. As part of the teaching, I have participated continuously and with full responsibility in a variety of subjects linked to the area of Marketing, participating in different official university cycles (bachelor’s degree, double bachelor’s degree, and master’s degree) with more than 1,500 hours of teaching. In addition, I have participated in a wide variety of master’s degrees, teaching courses and seminars (440 hours of teaching), obtaining outstanding evaluations and feedback from students and the Teaching Evaluation Committee of the University of Castilla-La Mancha. This experience demonstrates my knowledge of a variety of subjects, my continuity, and my responsibility in teaching.

I have co-authored several educational publications and participated actively in conferences aimed at teaching quality, courses on the use of new technologies in higher education, and seminars on educational planning. I have also participated in three projects of educational innovation involving the use of collaboration tools and new technologies in marketing. Concurrently, supervising scientific work has been an important element in my research career, as it allows academics to guide new researchers and, at the same time, to learn from them. During her academic life, I have directed 29 bachelor’s theses and master’s theses, and one doctoral thesis. Currently, I am co-directing two doctoral theses, both of which are multidisciplinary and with an international scope.

Academic management has also become important, being particularly noteworthy the position of Vice-Dean for Quality and Coordination at the School of Law and Social Sciences. During this period highly significant achievements were made. The three main results were the renewal of the accreditation of three bachelor’s degrees: 1) Bachelor’s degree in Law, 2) Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Management and 3) Bachelor’s degree in Labor Relations and Human Resources Development. In addition, I have held management, secretarial, and/or bachelor’s degree coordination positions at the University of Castilla-La Mancha. Furthermore, I have been responsible for two Erasmus programs for students and academics. During my stay in the United States, I have intensified my involvement in voluntary activities, a highlight being my participation as a tutor at Preuss School where I helped students with limited economic resources to obtain excellent grades to gain access to university.

As we have seen through the main academic milestones described, this professional choice is not easy and involves a huge amount of effort, difficulties, but also a lot of satisfaction and joy when certain goals are achieved. The researcher’s career is an in-depth one, very costly on an academic and personal level. The first lesson that a researcher must learn is that, in the world of knowledge one is always learning and undertaking new projects. Everything must be put into question and almost nothing is definitive. The career of researcher is full of filters, intermediate tests, demonstrations, continuous recycling, certifications, and accreditations that endorse the achievements of work and personal dedication. However, working with motivation and dedication becomes the most rewarding career itself because all the results are the fruit of one’s own work and effort. A researcher career allows you to achieve great personal development.

Figure 1 presents the main milestones to highlight in my academic career in the field of tourism.

Click to enlarge

Figure showing Estrella Diaz's career milestones

Figure showing Estrella Diaz's career milestones

Figure showing Estrella Diaz's career milestones

Figure showing Estrella Diaz's career milestones

Figure showing Estrella Diaz's career milestones

Figure showing Estrella Diaz's career milestones
Figure 1. Milestones in my academic career in the field of tourism.


This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 795428.


Written by Estrella Díaz Sánchez, University of Castilla-La Mancha, Spain
Read Estrella’s letter to future generations of tourism researchers


Brun, I., Rajaobelina, L., Ricard, L. and Amiot, T. (2020), ‘Examining the influence of the social dimension of customer experience on trust towards travel agencies: the role of experiential predisposition in a multichannel context’, Tourism Management Perspectives, 34, Article 100668. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tmp.2020.100668.

Buhalis, D. (2020), ‘Technology in tourism – from information communication technologies to eTourism and smart tourism towards ambient intelligence tourism: a perspective article’, Tourism Review, 75(1), 267–72.

Buhalis, D., Harwood, T. and Bogicevic, V. et al. (2019), ‘Technological disruptions in services: lessons from tourism and hospitality’, Journal of Service Management, 30(4), 484–506.

Díaz, E., Martín-Consuegra, D. and Esteban, Á. (2015), ‘Perceptions of service cannibalisation: the moderating effect of the type of travel agency’, Tourism Management, 48, 329–42.

Díaz, E., Martín-Consuegra, D. and Esteban, Á. (2017), ‘Sales agents vs the internet: understanding service sabotage based on the conservation of resources theory’, Internet Research, 27(4), 858–84.

Sharma, D. and Gassenheimer, J.B. (2009), ‘Internet channel and perceived cannibalization: scale development and validation in a personal selling context’, European Journal of Marketing, 43(7/8), 1076–91.

Tojib, D. and Khajehzadeh, S. (2017), ‘Mitigating customers’ negative responses to physical presence reduction’, Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 37, 109–18.


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Women’s voices in tourism research Copyright © 2021 by The University of Queensland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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