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Expedia chief steps down

Richard Barton, founder and chief executive of the online travel company, is leaving in March to live in Europe with his family.

Expedia founder and Chief Executive Richard Barton is leaving the company in March to live in Europe with his family.

The online travel company said Barton's resignation will take effect March 31, when Erik Blachford, who's now president of Expedia North America, will succeed him as CEO. Barton will stay involved with the company by joining USA Interactive's board of directors. USA is the majority owner of Expedia, although last year it backed away from plans to buy the company outright.

Expedia characterized Barton's departure as "carefully timed," and Barton said the move would allow him to pursue personal goals.

"With our three kids approaching school age and the company in such a rock-solid position, I feel it is a good time to pursue my long-standing dream to live in Europe for a year," Barton said in a statement.

Barry Diller, chairman of Expedia and USA Interactive, said he would have tried to convince Barton to stay had circumstances been different. "But it's simply impossible when fundamental life decisions are involved."

In a separate announcement, Expedia said it earned 33 cents per diluted share in the fourth quarter, compared with 8 cents per share in the year-ago period. The company also said its gross bookings doubled in the past year and that bookings for January have been "encouraging." However, unrest in the Middle East already has put a dent in tourism there, and a potential war with Iraq could scare off travelers.