Here we are already into February and I’m wondering how many of you have your tour calendar set, booked and ready to go for the rest of the year. None of this waiting until October to suddenly decide you’d like to do a year-end holiday tour. No nonsense like thinking in June it would be nice to do a fall foliage trip to New England. In short, if you haven’t got it together for the rest of this calendar year, it’s already too late!

My goal is always to be a year ahead. For a trip next December you’ll need to have the reservations booked, costed and published ready for sale April 1. That will give you from April l to Sept. 30to market and sell it. And you’ll then have the last three months – October, November and December – to finalize everything. By “finalize everything” I mean: get final payments in from travelers, make up rooming lists, pay hotels, go over day-by-day itinerary with your motorcoach company, brief your tour leader and send out final travel documents to your passengers.

And that’s just for ONE tour! What if you’re doing a trip per month?  Or more!  If they’re just one-day trips, not overseas, and you’ve been there, done that before, maybe you can get away with a shorter lead time. In this case, of course, it will be less work, less time spent on pre-trip preparation. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can properly market it and do justice to it if your planning is left to the last minute.

Also, let’s be fair to your travelers. It’s true that there are some folks who can drop everything and take off on a trip on short notice. But more likely than not, your travelers like to plan ahead. They may need to budget accordingly, verify if their best friend is available to travel with them and plan their day-to-day schedule accordingly. And, if truth be known, they savor the planning for the trip almost as much as the trip itself!

Booking your trips a year in advance also gives you, the , the advantage of assuring that there’s balance in your year’s travel schedule. You’ll want to offer a variety of trips at various price levels and lengths of time to fit the budget and schedule of your potential travelers. Perhaps you’ll want several one-day local trips, at least one cruise (something different each year please – not the same old Caribbean 7-day sailing), maybe one soft-adventure trip for your more active clientele. You may want to include one trip built around music – concerts, performances, etc. Perhaps something for those interested in the arts – a new museum or show being curated. Maybe a weekend family trip for all ages. Trips built around food are always a success – dine-around, learn to cook. When I’m tour escorting internationally, I always include a lesson – in Belgium it was how to make yummy Belgian chocolates, in colonial Mexico it was enchiladas. I find that the trips that folks remember fondly are those wherein they participated in some activity themselves, not just watched someone else do it.

Bear in mind, too, that a trip can be more than just a trip. It can be used to raise money for a specific cause (cost the donation into the trip and specify that so much per person is being donated to XYZ organization). Last year I took a group on a half-day walking tour in Berkeley, Calif. The day was coordinated by a company called Bay Area Green Tours and it specialized in showing off all the “green” businesses in town – ranging from a senior living facility to a rock-and-roll music venue. . .a fun and educational day.

All in all, there are trip possibilities to fill up the next 50 years. The secret is to ferret out those that are truly interesting, varied in content, and suitable for the ages, budget, and interests of your clientele. Then, take the leap and get them booked NOW – not later.

−By Marty Sarbey De Souto