The speed of change in the travel industry is set to quicken due to continuing advances in technology, the founder of Expedia told the OTA’s annual partner conference.
Rich Barton, who originally came up with the idea for Expedia and set it up 20 years ago after pitching the idea to Microsoft founder Bill Gates, said he was a “technology optimist”.
Addressing 4,000 delegates at the annual event in Las Vegas this week, Barton conceded the pace of change was “almost nauseating”.
And he said some people fear for the future and whether technology will eventually make human being subservient to it.
But he said: “I on the other hand am a technology optimist. I think we are masters of technology. It’s going to augment us in all sorts of different ways.
“We may have some fear of new technology but we are overcoming that fear to embrace the change. Expedia Inc and its family of brands are leading that change.”
Barton said the world was getting more complex but he said all firms should embrace the technology geeks in their organisations who are likely to be the early adopters of emerging technologies.
Barton said he originally hoped to establish Expedia outside of Microsoft, but Gates persuaded him to set it up as an entrepreneurial unit within the tech giant.
He said this meant he had his pick of talented people to help him build Expedia, and before long it had overtaken market leader Travelocity in the US.
“I was given just a just enough room and our team was co-operative enough with everyone else that they did not see it as a threat,” he said.
Barton, who has gone on to found and back a succession of technology start-ups, said what drove him and continue to today was the idea of giving power to the people.
“I like building consumer brands. Enterprise software is very lucrative but it’s not very interesting to me. Building consumer brands and building products that people want to use, that fires me up.”
Expedia says it spent $1 billion more on technology this year than last, with increasing budgets dedicated to systems partners like hotel, car hire, cruise and tours and attractions suppliers can use.
Expedia chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi told the event that in 2007 he went to the firm’s board to ask for the funds to “redouble, and actually quadruple our investment in technology”.
He said this had come after a “pretty tough” few years for Expedia and not long afterwards the global financial crash hit, which had an impact on travel.
However, Khosrowshahi said the Expedia board was steadfast in its commitment to investing in technology and over the last five years it has spent over £17 billion on technology and marketing.
He said Expedia’s growth “has not come by chance, it’s come from direct investment” in technology.
Today Expedia has over 18,000 employees globally and operates on 60,000 servers logging over one billion consumer events a month.
“We have the ability to learn from every single one of them to optimise the company based on customer behaviour that we observe.
“We are constantly testing ideas. The data will tell us of that idea is a good one o a bad one. Two thirds of tests we code as a company do not work.
“It makes for a very humbling experience. We talk about what went wrong. We are not afraid of making mistakes and we are not afraid of learning.”