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Rich Barton speaks at Seattle University's Albers Executive Speaker Series
Rich Barton speaks at Seattle University’s Albers Executive Speaker Series

As the founder of Expedia, Rich Barton reshaped the travel business as we know it.

So, what does the Seattle entrepreneur and investor — who also co-founded Zillow Group — think will shake up the travel industry next?

The Alexa family of voice-activated products
The Alexa family of products

Interestingly enough, it might be sitting on our kitchen counters right now.

Barton is absolutely enthralled with the Amazon Echo, the smart-home speaker that can tell you just about anything.

“It is kind of hard to describe why I like that, and why we use it… You know, it is a little weird conversing with a robot, and having that robot kind of understand you,” said Barton, speaking backstage with a group of travel leaders following the recent Skift Global Forum. “But, a part of it is, we just have this constant need for quicker, more efficient instantaneous responses. We want to buy stuff now. We want the car to show up now. We want it, when we want it. And, the Echo, when you talk to Alexa — ‘turn on NPR’ — the reaction time on that is super fast.”

In fact, it’s so much faster than trying to pull a phone out of your pocket, launch a Sonos app and find NPR, he said.

Barton added that “it is a harbinger of things to come in travel planning.” In fact, Barton said he founded Expedia back in 1996 with the dream of a “smart agent in mind.”

“We wanted to build an intelligent travel agent — a synthetic, intelligent travel agent —and that is actually about to come true,” he said. “In the next 10 years, five years maybe, we are going to see that come true, and it is going to come from Dara (Khosrowshahi) and Expedia.”

The conversation then turned to the ill-fated Clippy intelligent assistant from Microsoft, and while people laughed at (and ridiculed) the concept at the time, the idea has now come full circle.

Interestingly, we chatted on stage at the GeekWire Summit with Expedia’s Khosrowshahi about the use of intelligent bots in travel planning, saying that voice queries can create a “great experience” in some instances. (You can hear all of his remarks in minute 23 in the video in this post).

Skift released Barton’s remarks this week in a podcast, which you can listen to here. Barton appeared on the panel alongside some other big names in travel: Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Expedia Inc.; Jay Walker, founder of Priceline; and Brad Gerstner, founder and CEO of Altimeter Capital.

The show is worth a listen.

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