BELLEVUE, Wash. — The surprise guest at Expedia’s 20th anniversary celebration this afternoon was Barry Diller, the media mogul who co-founded the Fox network and oversees a wide range of online brands as chairman of the IAC media and Internet company. Diller made his first investment in Expedia in 2001 and remains its chairman.
After toasting employees and cutting the anniversary cake, Diller spoke for a few minutes with GeekWire about his investment in Expedia, his thoughts on its recent acquisition spree, and his belief in the future of artificial intelligence.
Continue reading for an edited excerpt from the interview.
Q: When you first acquired a stake in Expedia, in 2001, it was not a good year for travel. Why did you decide to go forward with this investment given all the turmoil in the travel industry at that point.
Barry Diller: Travel had stopped cold after 9/11, and that was when we really had to make the decision whether to proceed or not to buy the company. We thought a lot about it, and there were a lot people on all sides of this. Some people said, you shouldn’t do it, it’s too dicey, there’s no travel the world is ending, and somebody in the room said, ‘If there’s life, there’s travel.’ I heard that and I said, ‘Yeah, that’s what we’ll do. We’ll bet on life.’ And that’s what we did. And travel came back very quickly.
Q: What are your feelings as you reflect on that decision now, seeing where the company is?
Diller: I’m glad I made it. Sometimes you make decisions where the stakes are high and there’s a lot of risk, and things go bad. This is a situation where things have just gone not consistently right, but they’ve gone so right over such a long period of time. And it’s still a young company. That’s the amazing thing. Not only that it’s young, but the people are young, the sensibility is young, and optimistic and hopeful, so it’s actually all good.
Q: This company has become very good, especially in recent years, at something you’re very good at, and that’s acquisitions.
Diller: This is true.
Q: Do you see that pace of acquisitions continuing for Expedia?
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Diller: No. I don’t. First of all, I think there’s very little left to acquire that’s relevant to our travel businesses, and also because we’ve got a lot of digestion to do now. Look, any time you say it’s over, it’s not over. Anytime you say there’s not opportunity, something will come up and there’s opportunity, and this company is so ambitious that it will pounce on opportunity.
Q: You’re very big on artificial intelligence. You’re a proponent and a believer in its future.
Diller: Well, how could you not be. You’d be an idiot not to be. Look, artificial intelligence is another form of magic. The Internet is magic to those people who were actually born in an earlier period. It’s absolute magic. To those of you who are second-generation it’s not. Artificial intelligence is magic in its ability to change so much of what we all do.
Q: Do you see it influencing travel?
Diller: Of course it will. It will influence everything.