Mystery Shopper: Southend-on-Sea, an escorted tour in the Netherlands

Location: Southend-on-Sea
Wanted: A retired couple are looking for an escorted coach tour that takes in some of the Netherlands’ highlights and, perhaps, parts of Germany and/or Belgium too. They would like to travel for about five or six days and to see some city life, historical sights and countryside. They’re flexible with dates, but would like some guidance about the best time to go for good weather and reasonable prices.
Budget: £1,200

Travel Weekly note

Mystery Shopper surveys are conducted several weeks in advance of publication. This week’s report was carried out before the escalation of the coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent updates to FCO advice and developing restrictions on travel.

In light of the unprecedented circumstances facing the trade, new surveys have now been suspended, but surveys undertaken in recent weeks will continue to be published in upcoming issues to continue to showcase and share agents’ expertise for training purposes.

Mystery shopper Southend-on-Sea verdict

Travel Smart is this week’s clear winner, with the helpful agent working hard to find a broad selection of tours that suited the brief. Westway Travel offered just one quote, which did match the requirements, but the shopper had to chase for details. The options provided by Westcliff Travel were also limited, and the shopper felt the agent was not overly enthusiastic.

Winning travel agent: Pat Prior

“Coach tours are quite popular as we have quite a lot of mature clients, and  they don’t like using the internet. We look at what brochures offer when they come in and we go to local Tipto events, as they are useful. I’ve worked here for seven years, and have been an agent for nearly 30.”


Travel Smart, Chartwell Square, Victoria Plaza, 84%

Impression: The window displays and offers were clear and inviting. There were plenty of brochures on display, but the shop looked rather dated.

Service: The agent was on the phone when I arrived, but I was served within five minutes. She asked lots of questions and offered many suggestions. The agent worked hard to tailor quotes to my requirements and was keen to provide three options. Her knowledge was gleaned mainly from brochures and I was given those for Shearings Holidays, Leger Holidays, Cooks Coaches, Crusader Holidays, Alfa Travel, Titan Travel and local firm Kirbys Coaches.

Quotes: The first quote was for Cooks Coaches’ Valkenburg, Crossroads of Europe tour, for £798 in September (with insurance an extra £81), including ferry crossings to Calais and four nights’ B&B in Valkenburg. The tour would visit Aachen, Monschau, Spa, Maastricht, Lille and a viewpoint to see where the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany meet. The second was Shearings’ four-night Sparkling Amsterdam and Delft Pottery tour in September, for £1,078 (insurance £84). Leger’s sevenday Valkenburg, Amsterdam & the Rhine & Moselle Valleys tour, costing £1,178, was also mentioned.

Overall: I would have booked with this agent, as she was helpful and provided detailed information about holidays that matched my requirements.

Westway Travel, The Broadway, Thorpe Bay, 73%

Impression: This agency was well presented with eye-catching window displays and smart staff.

Service: I was greeted soon after I arrived. The agent asked some questions about my requirements, such as preferred departure points and places we’d like to visit. The agent appeared to have some knowledge of local coach firms and tour operators that could provide relevant tours. They focused on one particular operator: Kirbys Coaches, which is based in Essex. The option offered closely matched my criteria and featured local pick-up points. I was given a brochure to take away, but had to chase the agent by phone and email for more information and quotes.

Quotes: The one quote I received was for a four-night Rhine in Flames escorted holiday with Kirbys Coaches. It would cost £1,238 in September, including half-board accommodation in a twin room in Boppard, Germany, and travel by Eurotunnel. The tour would travel through France and Belgium, and included excursions to Rüdesheim and Cochem, and an evening riverboat trip to watch the Rhine in Flames fireworks display.

Overall: The agent was not overly enthusiastic and I needed to chase up for the quote and more details. I would have liked more suggestions tailored to our requirements.

Westcliff Travel, Hamlet Court Road, Westcliff-on-Sea, 70%

Impression: The shop frontage was tidy and modern, with some window offers, and the staff were well-presented.

Service: I was dealt with immediately by a friendly agent who asked about pick-up points, destinations and excursions. The agent provided some  assistance but they said the agency dealt with only a couple of companies locally, so options were somewhat limited. I received a copy of the Kirbys Coaches brochure. No follow-up was offered, so I had to chase by email. The agent covered the basic requirements, but I was not blown away by the quotes or the service.

Quotes: The agent emailed after my visit to suggest two coach tours from the Kirbys brochure. The first was a four-day Bulbfields and Battlefields trip in May, costing £978. Travelling via Eurotunnel through France and Belgium, the tour would visit Arnhem, famous for Operation Market Garden in the Second World War, and the tulip gardens of Keukenhof. The second quote was for Kirbys Coaches’ four-night Rhine in Flames trip, for £1,238.

Overall: The agent did what was requested, but provided limited information, and did little to enhance the experience. I would have liked more details without having had to chase for them.


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