This is a feature from an ongoing series of time-tested advice from group travel professionals. If you’d like to learn more about organizing group trips either as a hobby, new side gig or vocation, check out the Traveling Tribes book.

What’s the secret to running a successful group trip? Honestly, the answer is that it’s no one thing, but many, and there’s nothing secret about it.

Here are ten time-tested “top secrets” employed by group travel organizers worldwide.

1) Your trip plans should begin early.

For a major U.S. or international tour, that’s a year in advance if you’re doing all the itinerary design and reservations yourself. If buying a tour from a tour operator, 8-10 months in advance should be sufficient. Short trips like a three-day weekend, you can do much closer in.

2) Be sure you’ve done some market research before you even start to book a tour.

Perhaps do a survey in one of your emails or publications or have this year’s trip members vote where they’d most like to go next year via a survey you include as part of a trip evaluation.

3) If designing the trip yourself, allow for proper pacing in your day-to-day itinerary.

A crack‐of‐dawn departure after a late night should be avoided. If you’ve scheduled a morning and evening activity the same day, give them the afternoon free. If there’s a cerebral activity in the morning, try something outdoors in the afternoon. Over‐tired and eventually sick tour members do not make happy campers.

4) Your trip should be priced on minimum expected numbers, but book for the maximum.

For example, you might like to reserve space for 30 participants, but price it on 15 so you can surely operate it if you only have 15 enrollment.

5) Lay out your trip’s marketing schedule and budget well in advance.

Write on your calendar dates for a trip’s release (usually nine months in advance of tour departure) and dates for your email and direct mail campaign, press releases to the media, promotional evening, any paid advertising, etc. If designing and costing the trip yourself, these marketing costs need to be priced into the tour before you publish the trip price. If you’re buying the trip “off the shelf” from a tour operator or cruise line, and therefore can’t modify their published price, you’ll need to negotiate hard and heavy for some promotional assistance funding from your supplier or simply have to settle for less profit to accommodate these marketing expenses.

6) Before accepting the final offer from your tour suppliers, go over every little detail to be sure there are no misunderstandings

How many twins and single rooms do you hold? Are all the hotels listed actually confirmed, or are those just “suggested” hotels? Are entrance fees and tips to step‐ on guides included when sightseeing? What about other tips to waiters, tour manager, bus driver, porters, hotel bellmen in and out of rooms, etc. Be specific!

7) When costing, throw in a small fee to allow for misunderstandings.

A gratuity you forgot, an en route nicety you omitted, a change in currency exchange rates that may happen between now and departure date, all these things add up and could ruin your trip’s profitability.

8) Be sure you have a dynamite tour leader at the helm.

This might be a volunteer, a “pro” whom you hire, a Pied Piper who brought in the client bookings, or it might even be you! But whoever it is, it must be someone with leadership

9) As tour participants book, keep in touch with them in the intervening time until departure.

Never take them for granted; they can always cancel and by communicating small details prior to the trip your customers will be well-informed and excited for departure day. Be sure their final payments come in on time.

10) Most importantly, work only with well‐known, reputable tour operators.

It’s more important to have a truly professional and honorable supplier behind you than to look for the cheapest deal around. Work with tour suppliers who have the financial stability, experience, and in‐the‐field know‐ how to help you and your travelers in case of an emergency.

You may have additional ideas or your own secrets of running successful group trips. I so, let us know. We can all learn from each other. Email with your ideas.