THE MARKETING 100: MICROSOFT EXPEDIA: RICHARD BARTON

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For many web-savvy travelers, Microsoft Expedia is just the ticket. But if Richard Barton has his way, Expedia could be an interactive stroll down the beach in Waikiki.

"I think some day, Expedia will grow up into an on-demand interactive, multimedia experience," says Mr. Barton, business unit manager of Microsoft Corp.'s growing travel business. "Whether we call it TV at that point or Internet version 20, I don't know."

Back when Mr. Barton conceived Expedia in early 1995, many on-line proponents thought content was king. Mr. Barton took a different view.

"I had a fervent belief in on-line," he says, "and I had a religious belief in electronic commerce."

Originally assigned to develop a CDÁROM travel guide, he saw a bigger opportunity in marrying travel and e-commerce. He bet correctly that there is a huge market of people who wanted to be in control of their travel plans.

Mr. Barton pitched Chairman Bill Gates on the idea for an electronic travel agent in 1995. Expedia was launched in November 1996.

Mr. Barton is waiting for bandwidth and technology to make Expedia the all-knowing, all-seeing virtual expert travel agent.

For now, Expedia (http://expedia.com) offers a simple way for Web travelers to shop for and book airline tickets, hotel rooms and rental cars.

Expedia is visited by 2 million individuals a month, and the site sells more than $4 million of travel a week, says Mr. Barton, 31 and a seven-year Microsoft veteran.

He measures success by traffic, ticket sales and member signups on the free site.

"We are just at the beginning of a very long growth curve in Internet commerce," he says.

He admits, however, that Expedia isn't making money yet.

Microsoft didn't invent the concept; Sabre Group's EasySabre sold tickets on Prodigy in the '80s. Expedia today competes head-on against two big sites, the America Online-aligned Preview Travel and Sabre Group's Travelocity.

Mr. Barton says Microsoft's backing is a great security asset and "trust builder" in targeting consumers. But he contends Expedia will beat rivals not based on the power of Microsoft's name and reach, but on the software behind Expedia. Since buying travel is a "productivity application," he says, "you need a very productivity-oriented tool to take control of that process."

"Brand is very important," he adds. "But the very greatest brands in the world are built on the best products in the world. You can't have one without the other."

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