As we continue to work our way through the history of GBTA, today’s blog post looks at the Association and the business travel industry during the 1980s. The airline deregulation process continued through the early 1980s. In 1980, the Civil Aeronautics Board (C.A.B) ordered that travel agency commissions be unregulated, and in 1981 it began allowing carriers and individual customers or agents to negotiate discounted tickets.
As the C.A.B. considered deregulating the sale of airline tickets, the National Passenger Traffic Association (NPTA) as GBTA was known as in those days, “argu[ed] before the board that a major inequity existed in that travel agencies collected commissions from business travelers while business travel departments that performed essentially the same function did not.” (The New York Times, December 10, 1982.)
On January 1, 1985, NPTA celebrated victoriously as deregulation of the travel-agent industry went into effect “offer[ing] businesses not only a reduction in travel expenses and great control over business travel, but also the possibility of turning travel departments into profit centers” (The New York Times, March 5, 1985.)
Minutes from the 17th Annual NPTA Conference held in 1985 in the New York Hilton noted all exhibit booths were sold, a total of 304, and some exhibitors had to be turned away. Conference registration stood at 1,400 that year.
1985 also saw the formation of the Chapter Presidents’ Council with Kathleen Franger in charge. She was formally elected CPC President in 1986. During her term, the NPTA bylaws amended allowing the CPC President to hold a non-voting seat on the Association’s Board. In 1988, this was changed again, to all the CPC President to serve as a voting member of the Association Board.
In 1988, NPTA established the President’s Award – more commonly referred to today as the Direct Member of the Year Award – recognizing outstanding achievement in the business travel community. Patricia Robertson of SAS Institute, Inc. took home the award that year followed by Cathy Armstrong of Fokker Aircraft USA, Inc in 1989.
In 1989, NPTA changed its name to the National Business Travel Association and moved its office to Alexandria, Virginia, with four executive staff.
The late 1980s also brought about tighter travel budgets as the U.S. economy slowed. Corporate travel departments scrambled to cut costs where possible. “Small, medium and large companies are trying to manage their T&E by reserving far in advance for promotional discount airfares, joining frequent-flier programs, visiting as many clients as possible per trip, qualifying for corporate hotel rates and not entertaining in expensive restaurants,” said Jack Witherspoon, general manager of Electronic Data Systems Corp. in Richardson, Texas, and NPTA President (Crain’s New York Business, August 28, 1989).
Arlene Macchia, John Bacon, Richard Rudkin, Jack Witherspoon and Margie Crace served as NPTA and NBTA Presidents throughout the 1980s.
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