The recent history of travel is in no small part the story of online travel. And that story has yet to be better told than by Skift’s “The Definitive Oral History of On line Travel,” a collection of interviews with the key people associated with the startups of such iconic companies as Expedia, TripAdvisor, Kayak, Priceline, and the like.
In all, it’s a book-length read, but well worth the time for anyone who cares about the ideas and actions that gave rise to the current travel landscape. It was a period that fairly throbbed with possibility and opportunity, rife with stories both personal and business-related.
Among the many nuggets is a side story from Jay Walker, a Priceline founder, on the company’s choice of a spokesman for its early radio ads:
Bill Cosby was actually our first choice for the radio advertising because he had the most famous and trusted voice in America because of the Jell-O Pops and Kodak.
In the event, Cosby held out for more money than the fledgling Priceline could afford, and William Shatner, of Star Trek fame, got the nod instead, and the rest is history.
The gig arguably gave Shatner’s ebbing career a boost, as Priceline’s catchy radio and TV ads were ubiquitous at the time. And his combination of solidity and insouciance no doubt played a part in Priceline’s success in establishing itself in the hearts and minds of travel consumers. It was a win-win.
Knowing the back story, one can’t help but wonder how Priceline’s story, and its success, might have played out if Cosby’s compensation demands had been more modest and he’d become the company spokesman.
The allegations of sexual abuse wouldn’t have been enough to completely undermine Priceline’s compelling value proposition. But Cosby’s sullied reputation certainly could have stalled Priceline’s growth and given other opaque-booking sites an opportunity to establish themselves as market leaders. Those alternative Pricelines might have gone on to acquire or merge with other online travel distributors. And so on.
But for Bill Cosby’s money lust, the story of online travel might be very different.
Reader Reality Check
How would Priceline have fared with Cosby as its spokesman?
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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.