Expedia Chair Barry Diller: artificial intelligence will be travel’s next big thing
04/11/2016|9:33:46 AM|Skift

This year won’t be the year of artificial intelligence (AI). But it’s coming and artificial intelligence will be transformational.

That summarizes the sentiments of Barry Diller, the chairman and senior executive of both Expedia and IAC/InterActiveCorp, who says that machine learning and artificial intelligence will combine to manage companies’ big data troves and there will be layers of innovation “tacked onto distribution systems.”

He argued that there won’t be a single next big thing but there will be several tracks, including mobile, machine learning, artificial intelligence and big data.

Examples of artificial intelligence applications to personalize services, such as “Connie” the robot concierge that’s being piloted at some Hilton properties, are appearing at a modest pace, and Diller thinks it will take a generation or two before the impact is truly felt with “unimaginable consequences,” potentially both positive and negative.

Speaking at the World Travel & Tourism Global Summit in Dallas April 7, Diller likened the potential ramifications of artificial intelligence, which he said could displace workforces, to a “meteor hitting the earth,” adding it could be an existential threat for humankind.

Diller sees the game-changing positive possibilities of artificial intelligence, as well, as did his colleague Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, who told the same audience a few minutes later that artificial intelligence applications could transform the tours and activities arena — a sector where many operators still rely on paper tickets.

Companies that embrace these new technologies “will win,” over the long term, Khosrowshahi said.

Darren Huston, CEO of Expedia rival the Priceline Group, appeared separately at the gathering and also extolled the virtues of artificial intelligence. He said it will give people access to new kinds of information in a format that they can use.

For example, travelers will be able to figure out things to do or places to go that a British professor or an ardent backpacker might prefer.

Diller addressed the subject of rapid technological change, noting that three or four years ago online video was difficult to get right because there wasn’t enough bandwidth but it’s a different reality today.

Beating Google Through Focus

He also expressed confidence that technological innovation would allow companies such as Expedia to stay ahead of Google, which has “disintermediation on their flight path.”

“If you concentrate on your own business” and innovate rather than adding not-necessarily integral new businesses — like Google might arguably be doing — then your company will succeed through this focus, Diller said.

Diller also weighed in on the consolidation trend, which has overrun the airline, hotel, car rental and other industries. He said a certain amount of consolidation makes sense.

Diller has acquired dozens of companies, and in the travel industry some of his grabs have included Hotels.com, Expedia, Hotwire, TripAdvisor, Trivago, Travelocity, Orbitz Worldwide, and HomeAway, to name just a few.

“I think consolidation is a natural, healthy thing as long as your are operating essentially in the same sphere,” Diller said.

“I don’t believe in agglomerated companies.”

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