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THE TARGET ? WANTED ?
Twickenham A Ski Weekend

RULES
Each week, Mystery Shopper calls on agents across the UK. Shops are judged on five criteria:


Agency appearance (15%)
Brochure racking (10%)
Product knowledge (25%)
Sales technique (25%)
Staff attitude (25%)


The top-scoring agency receives a Travel Weekly certificate of commendation. Agencies must score a minimum of 60% to qualify. Any agency that scores under 30% will be named and shamed as this week’s Shop of Horrors. Please note, no additional information will be given about Mystery Shopper’s visits.

ThomasTHOMAS COOK
16 Heath Road

There were two consultants but one was with customers and the other walked out when I walked in, so I was left alone for a few minutes. When the first consultant became free, she took advice from a colleague in the bureau de change. She suggested Crystal Holidays but, as the agency didn’t have any Crystal brochures, my consultant flicked through those from Neilson and Inghams – the only ski brochures on the racks – and found that they both offered short breaks. She said she would check if they offered suitable flight times when I was ready to book.


Score: 45%

WorldWORLD OF TRANSPORT AND TRAVEL
37 Heath Road

Piles of railway magazines on the shelves made this feel like a newsagents for train spotters, but the consultant assured me they sold ski holidays. However, he shook his head when I asked for a short break. He said it was best to book on the Internet, as few operators sold ski weekends. When I spotted a couple of brochures featuring short breaks he did a U-turn, assuring me he could indeed book a ski weekend. To prove the point, he showed me his copy of the book Where to Ski and Snowboard 2006.


Score: 45%

EdwinEDWIN DORAN’S TRAVEL WORLD
54 King Street

This agency had quite a good selection of ski brochures. The consultant gave me Inghams’ brochure, saying it featured short breaks, then tried but failed to find ski weekends in the Crystal brochure. She called Ski Independence, saying it was a France specialist, to find out which resorts it offered. She was quoted £471 per person for a weekend in Chamonix in early March, but the departing flight was late morning and the return flight was mid-afternoon. She suggested I flew out the night before, which wasn’t a bad idea.


Score: 59%

COMMENDED ?
ThamesTHAMES TRAVEL
373 Richmond Road

This was a bland agency from the outside but it boasted a good selection of ski brochures, including independent specialists such as La Grange, Bladon Lines and Elegant Resorts. The consultant got off to a poor start by saying not a single operator featured ski weekends in their brochures. However, she did say some of them offered tailor-made short breaks. Her colleague pointed out that the Inghams brochure listed all the resorts to where it offered ski weekends, including several in Austria and Switzerland. I said the transfers to all of these were too long so the first consultant offered to ring round a few operators to find something else. When she called Crystal, she was offered a weekend in Chamonix, which was only a two-hour transfer from Geneva. She asked whether the price of just under £700 for two people was within my budget. When I said it was she wrote down all the details, including the flight times. I pointed out the outbound flight was a little late, but she said that as the inbound flight wasn’t until the evening, I would have at least three full days’ skiing.


Score: 60%

TOP FIVE TIPS

Tip 1: Crystal, Inghams, Neilson and Thomson all have a section in the front of their brochures about ski weekends in a variety of countries, including France, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Norway.

Tip 2: Chamonix and Avoriaz in France are both around 60 miles from Geneva and have good snow until May.

Tip 3: Crystal offers breaks from three nights upwards at the Hotel Morgane in Chamonix.

Tip 4: Switzerland is also a good destination for short breaks, as most holidays are based on scheduled flights. Resort transfers are usually by rail, but most journeys from airports are more than two hours long.

Tip 5: A ski weekend could easily be dynamically packaged. The Gazetteers Pluswebsite lists dynamic packaging companies in a number of ski resorts.

SUMMARY

As she could only spare a couple of days off work for the rest of the ski season, Mystery Shopper planned to cram seven days’ skiing into a long weekend, leaving London at the crack of dawn on a Thursday or Friday and returning on a late flight on Sunday or Monday.

To increase her time on the slopes, she wanted a resort that was no more than two hours’ transfer from the airport. As she also needed somewhere with a good snow record, she thought that maybe one of the larger, high-altitude French resorts would be the best bet, but she didn’t specify any particular one to agents. 

She wanted to stay in a hotel on a half-board basis, but she wasn’t looking for anything too luxurious. Her budget for herself and her partner was a maximum of £1,000. They planned to travel in March.



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