Too much structure makes your incentive travel qualifiers feel like herded school children. Everyone thinks incentive travel design is a breeze. After all, how hard can it be to plan some fun? The fact is, all too often even the pros' programs are plagued with design problems. Here are six of the most treacherous traps and some advice on how to avoid getting snared.

TRAP #1 If the Boss Likes It, They'll Like It Most destination decisions are based on the preferences of senior executives. Shame on us. Why are we running the trip in the first place?

Avoid the trap: The destination choice should be based on its appeal to the target audience--not the sponsor. When in doubt, survey your potential attendees. Do your homework and present it to management. If you don't make your case for a destination, they'll make it for you.

TRAP #2 Too Many Qualifiers Expectations for incentive trips run high. Your goal is to exceed them. You will almost certainly fail if you skimp on key elements. Four main variables determined program cost; the latter three determine trip quality: number of attendees, destination, trip duration, and inclusions (meals, special events, gifts). Too often companies are inflexible about the size of the group, preferring to stretch the budget with a lesser destination, shorter itinerary, or bargain meals.

Avoid the trap: Spend what it takes. It's better to reduce the number of qualifiers and spend more on fewer people. If you can't afford to create an unforgettable experience, find another reward.

TRAP #3 Inadequate Promotion If you think a travel incentive will sell itself, you're wrong. Creative promotion creates the buzz. You can make do with a skimpy mailing if you're headed to Bali, but you'll get killed if it's Arizona in August.

Avoid the trap: Promote, promote, promote. Every place has its selling points. Less sexy destinations can be promoted by playing up their history, geography, or culture. Sell the destination.

TRAP #4 The Trip Is the Recognition The opportunity for personal recognition sets group travel apart, but companies often fail to take advantage of it, planning only the standard, final banquet.

Avoid the trap: Recognition is everything. Give your execs as much information on your winners as they can absorb--who had the greatest sales improvement, who's a returning winner, and so on. Encourage them to mingle with the winners and also plan special situations, such as assigned seating (top winners with top execs) and private dinners.

TRAP #5 All Fun and No Business Ever notice how qualifiers corner your executives at every cocktail party and poolside bar? Why? They've got something to say. Too often planners assume that structured meetings should not be part of the incentive agenda because participants just want to have fun. In fact, the opposite is true. They want to talk.

Avoid the trap: Senior management forums and town hall meetings can create interaction in a semi-structured, informal environment. People feel recognized when they get the opportunity to air their beefs or make recommendations.

TRAP #6 Too Much Planning Many incentive planners carefully plan every minute of every day. But as much as qualifiers value interaction with other top performers, too much structure makes them feel like herded school children.

Avoid the trap: Balance is everything. Schedule group and team building activities early so people can renew acquaintances. Later, provide resources for attendees to "customize" their trip. They'll love you for it, and they'll be back next year.