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When Lisa Busch, a former office administrator, and Kevin Thuman, a retired educator, coach and student travel leader, purchased Dublin, Ohio-based Prime Tours in 2019, they couldn't have known the challenges they'd soon face. However, as new co-owners of a company that's been customizing group tours since 1996, Busch and Thuman's past experiences prepared them to take it all on in stride.

Thuman had utilized Prime's services in the past for a student trip he led to DC, along with working full time in the industry since 2014, and Busch was already plenty familiar with Prime and its workings.

"I began as the office administrator for Prime Tours in 2016 after selling my previous retail company and learned every aspect of the business from the ground up," said Busch, who is also the company's CFO.

When Prime's previous owner expressed interest in retiring, talks with Busch and Thuman began. Recognizing the great potential to grow the business, Busch and Thuman pooled their talents and equity to make the purchase official. However, when COVID-19 hit six months later, there was much to consider.

"It made for some very anxious moments as we waited impatiently for travel restrictions to be lifted," Thuman recalled. "We had time to think and plan for how our business model would look in a post-COVID world, and we changed our marketing strategy."

Fortunately, the combination of flexibility and loyal customers helped Prime Tours remain in a good position. They've since added more robust terms & conditions and added post-departure insurance for every student traveler. Busch explained that more travelers than ever are seeking travel insurance—a welcomed change.

Among some of Busch and Thuman's favorite travel offerings are their British Invasion Band Fan Tours in Liverpool, Windsor and London; Haunted Tours with Sheri Brake in Gettysburg and Ireland; senior citizen trips to Italy; and more.

"I love our celebrity tours. Fans absolutely love to travel with others who share the same passions," Busch said, whose personal favorite experience was at a castle in Czechia. "Our Outlander trips to Scotland and Bead Tours to the Czech Republic stand out as the most memorable, with spectacular farewell dinners and entertainment that left everyone laughing, crying and singing along."

When it comes to lessons learned and advice for newcomers, both Busch and Thuman agree: The fine print matters.

"Prepare, prepare, prepare, and have a backup plan," said Thuman, who in his spare time enjoys garden model railroading and pickleball. "Hire good local guides, establish relations with bus companies and other vendors. Have a plan for what type of travel you will offer. Think about who your customers will be."

Busch suggests developing workflow systems and checklists; verifying everything; and paying close attention to contracts—especially from hotels. Don't like the terms? Negotiate.

"Learn how your money works. Take classes, get a coach or advisor, and if it's not your forte, get a bookkeeper," she said. "The fastest way to put yourself out of business is a lack of understanding about cash flow and how your expenses impact the bottom line."

Though she still gets nervous going into a tour from time to time, Busch loves traveling with groups. She even wears a red coat on tours so groups can always find her!

"Once I'm on the tour, the nervousness goes away and it's great fun to be with the guests and show them the places I love."

Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for Groups Today.

This article originally appeared in the Nov/Dec '22 issue of Groups Today.

 

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