Location: Oxford
Wanted: A family of three – mum, dad and their toddler – want a relaxing holiday somewhere in the Caribbean. They would like facilities and services that would be suitable for a two-year-old – and want to avoid the hurricane season and guarantee good weather. They don’t know which part of the Caribbean would suit them as they are first-time visitors, so they need advice about flights, airlines, airports and family-friendly resorts.
Budget: £5,500

Virgin Holidays
Westgate Centre, Queen Street

Impression: The store was very tidy and staff were smart and pleasant. There was a wide selection of brochures to browse.

Service: I was greeted immediately with a smile by a friendly, enthusiastic agent. She was attentive and excited about the holiday for me – and knew a lot about the destinations and hotels which best suited my needs. We discussed travel insurance but no quotes were given. She showed a genuine interest in my holiday, offering me different choices and locations. I enjoyed this visit and would have bought the package if I had been a real customer. I will also recommend the agency to friends and family.

Quotes: Both were for seven-night all-inclusive packages with Virgin Holidays in July, flying with Virgin Atlantic from Gatwick. The first was a standard room at Hotel Sol Palmeras in Varadero, Cuba, for £3,153. The hotel is near the beach and has a big pool and a kids’ club. The second hotel was an oceanfront junior suite at the Sea Breeze Beach House in Barbados for £5,598. It matched my requirements very closely, offering facilities for couples with little ones, such as a kids’ club and babysitting services.

Overall: A great experience, resulting in a good deal and a happy customer.

101 Queen Street

Impression: The shop was tidy and the agent looked professional. There were very few brochures on display.

Service: The shop was fairly busy as I arrived, and I made eye contact with an agent, who was serving other customers. I had to wait just over half an hour before I could see an agent to discuss my requirements. The agent was friendly, attentive and enthusiastic, and talked about Barbados, as they have been there several times so know about the different areas and activities available. Travel insurance was mentioned but no quotes were given. I was given a business card, with my quotes being sent via email.

Quotes: Both were for seven-night all-inclusive Kuoni holidays in Barbados, departing from Gatwick with British Airways in July. I was advised that Barbados does not have hurricanes or storms in July so it would be perfect for us. The first quote was for Crystal Cove by Elegant Hotels in a one-bedroom pool view suite, for £5,733. The second was a one-bedroom suite at Turtle Beach Resort – another Elegant Hotels property – for £5,603. Both were upmarket, family-friendly hotels with kids’ clubs and pools.

Overall: Apart from the long initial wait, the shopper received great service, lots of choices and ideal quotes.

105-106 St Aldate’s

Impression: The shop was tidy and there were very few brochures on display. The agent looked tired.

Service: I was approached by an agent with a smile and asked to take a seat, as someone would serve me shortly. But I had to wait eight minutes. The agent didn’t have extensive knowledge about suitable hotels or destinations, and was not sure about the hurricane or rainy season. I had to prompt the agent for details about flights and accommodation. The agent gave me a business card and later emailed me. I would not have booked that holiday.

Quotes: They could only give me one detailed quote in the shop, which was for 10 nights in July, flying from Gatwick with British Airways. It was an all-inclusive holiday at Now Larimar Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, for £4,816. I was told this is the best location and an ideal family hotel. The beach is two minutes from the hotel and has a kids’ activity club. A second, handwritten quote was given to me with the price for the same holiday at an alternative hotel – Dreams Punta Cana Resort & Spa – for £4,722. I was advised I could book this on their website.

Overall: The agent appeared tired and just seemed to want to finish the transaction.

Winning agent

Bick-wah Minhas, personal holiday advisor

“We have a lot of enquiries for the Caribbean. It has plenty to offer families,including toddlers, with programmes to keep children entertained. I have had training courses from Caribbean operators and I take into account kids’ pools, entertainment and dining options.”


The mystery shopper was extremely impressed by the enthusiasm and product knowledge encountered at the Virgin Holidays shop, and the second quote in particular hit the mark. The Kuoni agent was also keen and well-informed, although the shopper was disappointed with the long wait. Unfortunately, the Trailfinders agent seemed tired, and lacked the knowledge and enthusiasm displayed at the other agencies.


The top-scoring agent each weeks bags a £25 Amazon or Love2Shop voucher, courtesy of Elite Island Resorts.

Elite Island Resorts offers eight all-inclusive beach properties in the Caribbean.

Antigua: Galley Bay Resort & Spa; Hammock Cove Resort & Spa; St James’s Club & Villas; The Verandah Resort & Spa; and Pineapple Beach Club.

Barbados: The Club, Barbados Resort & Spa

Saint Lucia: St James’s Club Morgan Bay

St Vincent & The Grenadines: Palm Island Resort & Spa.

As well as all-inclusive Caribbean holidays in beachfront locations, Elite Island Resorts offers family and adult-only resorts, and free wedding and honeymoon packages.