In association with Gazetteers Plus

Crewe, Cheshire A fortnight in the Maldives

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.

mystery shopper crewe 100306 - coopCO-OP TRAVEL
64a Market Street

As the consultant started searching the racks for brochures, she said: “Do you want many, or just one or two?” I asked her to give me those she thought would be good. She gave me every one she could lay her hands on which included Thomas Cook Signature, Manos and Cosmos Distant Dreams. She said they were “all much of a muchness”. When I asked her to recommend an island, she replied: “There are thousands, look at the brochures.” When I asked if all the hotels had reopened post-tsunami, she said she thought so. I thought I’d go elsewhere.

Score: 29%

mystery shopper crewe 100306 - going placesGOING PLACES
64 High Street 

The consultant gave me the Airtours Far and Away brochure, saying all the hotels featured would have definitely reopened since the tsunami. She said there was so much choice it was difficult to recommend any particular island or hotel and advised me to look through the brochure instead. She pointed out hotels that had been highly rated by customers were marked ‘Your Favourite’ in the brochure. She did mention that the agency’s manager had just been to the Maldives but she didn’t attempt to get her advice. Fat lot of help that was then.

Score: 30%

Mystery shopper crewe 100306 - 3D Travel3D TRAVEL
6 Heath Street

The agency was a little shabby but this clearly hadn’t put off the customers as it was quite busy. I was served straight away and the consultant immediately checked on her system to make sure the Taj Exotica was open. She confirmed it was but she suggested I consider an all-inclusive property instead “as a Coca-Cola in the Maldives could cost £10”. She recommended two or three all-inclusive hotels that her customers had enjoyed. Giving me a few brochures to take away, she said Kuoni and Hayes and Jarvis were often cheaper than Thomson or Airtours.

Score: 60%

mystery shopper crewe 100306 - thomsonTHOMSON
7 Victoria Centre

A giggly consultant served me straight away, but she didn’t seem to know where to begin. Eventually she decided to check her system for brochures that featured the Taj Exotica, which was the hotel recommended to me. She found it in a few brochures but pointed out it was sold as bed-and-breakfast only. She said that as food was expensive in the Maldives, I should consider an all-inclusive property. When I said I fancied doing some diving she looked in the Kuoni Dive brochure for hotels. I was concerned they looked a bit basic but she said some were first-class properties. She suggested I took some brochures away to help me choose and popped a few in a bag with her business card. She also recommended I consider combining a couple of islands or twinning the Maldives with Dubai or Sri Lanka. She checked with a colleague who said all properties in the Maldives had reopened since the tsunami. As I was leaving, she said the agency would match Internet prices. “So there’s no point even looking”, she added.

Score: 61%


Tip 1: Like many other hotels in the Maldives, the Taj Exotica was damaged by the tsunami, but it reopened at the end of last year.

Tip 2: Gazetteers Plus currently features no less than 17 tour operators who feature the Taj Exotica.

Tip 3: The Maldives is one of the world’s top diving destinations, home to threequarters of the world’s coral reef fish species and suitable for divers of all levels. Most resorts have a dive centre.

Tip 4: Diving holidays can be found on Gazetteers Plus by clicking the ‘Special Interest’ tab to the left of the country information page.

Tip 5: Eating out is expensive in the Maldives. Luckily, Gazetteers Plus clearly indicates which hotels are all-inclusive under each operator’s brochure details.


Mystery Shopper and her partner wanted to go to the Maldives for a romantic fortnight in the sun.   They had been recommended the Taj Exotica hotel, but they wanted to know if it had been damaged by the 2004 tsunami disaster, and, if it had, had it fully reopened.

They were also open to other suggestions from travel agents. They were mostly looking for a sun-bathing holiday, but they also fancied a spot of diving.

This really was a story of two halves as a couple of the agents were desperately uninterested in the request, while the other two were very helpful.

The Thomson agent was clearly less familiar with the Maldives than the agent at 3D Travel, but her enthusiasm and willingness to spend time with Mystery Shopper earned her those crucial extra points.

Logo: DG&G GazeteersAbout Gazetteers Plus

Gazetteers Plus, from DG&G Travel Information gives you a single website that means you need never fear being mystery shopped again! Gazetteers Plus combines all our unique and unbiased data – destination/resort guides, hotel reviews, tour operator details, passport and visa – and sorts it the way you want it. With superb search functionality and additional hi-tech features such as online brochures, photos and interactive maps, you’ll find it hard to believe that travel agents ever managed without it. Gazetteers Plus provides agents with all the product knowledge you need to meet and exceed customer expectations. Log on at

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