Logo: DG&G Gazetteers    In association with Gazetteers Plus

Lancaster An activity holiday in Borneo, Malaysia

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 lancaster 230306 - going placesGOING PLACES
1 Lancaster Gate, St Nicholas Arcades

The first time I called on this agency, I was ignored by all four staff, although I was the only client in the shop. After browsing the racks for a few minutes, I left and returned later. I was ignored again until I approached a consultant with my request. She checked the Kuoni brochure but she said it didn’t offer any activity holidays. She said all I could do was book a standard package and arrange activities when I arrived. However, she did look in the Gazetteer for specialist operators and gave me the contact details.

Score: 25%

mystery shopper lancaster 230306 - thomsonTHOMSON
31 Market Street

The consultant tried to be helpful but her lack of product knowledge left her feeling around in the dark. She showed me a sightseeing holiday in Borneo in the Kuoni brochure. I said I wanted something more active, so she searched on screen for adventure holidays, and came up with a couple of names and went to look for brochures. She returned with a Virgin Holidays’ brochure and showed me one itinerary, but this was just another sightseeing trip in mainland Malaysia. However, I did find another holiday in the brochure that looked promising.

Score: 31%

mystery shopper lancaster 230306 - co-opCO-OP TRAVEL
11 Ashton Walk, St Nicholas Arcades

The consultant found a Gold Medal brochure, but it featured sightseeing tours mostly rather than activity holidays. She checked online and printed a list of operators offering adventure holidays, but said she didn’t have any brochures in stock. She offered to let me see the agency’s file copies – Thomas Cook Signature and Tradewinds – and offered to order me copies. She said I could just book the flights and hotels and arrange activities when I arrived, but she didn’t sound convincing.

Score: 45%

mystery shopper lancaster 230306 - thomas cookTHOMAS COOK
11 Cheapside

The first consultant didn’t seem interested in the request and neither did the colleague from who she sought advice, who told her to give me the Virgin Holidays’ Taste of Adventure brochure. The consultant was looking through the brochure when the colleague said all operators featured adventure holidays, adding she had recently been to Borneo with Tradewinds. I was surprised she didn’t mention this before. Her colleague showed me the Tradewinds brochure which featured a two-day mountain climb, white-water rafting or visits to an orang-utan sanctuary. She said most excursions were pre-bookable but added there were many more I could arrange when I arrived. She said I would be offered a lot on the transfer from the airport. She also said it was worth stopping off in Kuala Lumpur for a couple of days’ sightseeing or combining Borneo with a beach holiday in Langkawi or Penang. She said Malaysian Airlines flew direct from Manchester, which she said was a good service. She also gave me Thomas Cook Signature’s Worldwide brochure.

Score: 75%


Tip 1: Borneo is a large island in Southeast Asia divided between Malaysia and Indonesia. Tour operators usually go to the Malaysian part.

Tip 2: The main resort is Kota Kinabalu, a beach resort with several large luxury hotels.

Tip 3: Virgin Holidays’ Splendours of Borneo tour visits Iban tribes at Batang Ai, the caves of Mulu National Park, Mount Kinabalu and the orang-utan sanctuary at Sandakan. A similar tour is offered by Bales, and a more adventurous version by Exodus.

Tip 4: Other operators, including Premier Holidays, Thomas Cook Signature and Travel 2, offer short add-on trips.

Tip 5: Such holidays can be found on Gazetteers Plus under the ‘Specialist’ category ‘Adventure/multi-activity’.


Mystery Shopper was looking for a taste of adventure when she called on agents in Lancaster. She wanted to go to Borneo, where she was hoping she would be able to do trekking, climbing, white-water rafting and wildlife viewing. She wanted to pre-book as many activities as possible. She planned to stay in a hotel, but she wasn’t looking for luxury. She was flexible about her departure date, so she wanted agents to tell her the best time of year to go. Three of four agents weren’t able to tell her much. The fourth agent was fortunate enough to have visited Borneo recently and she gained lots of points for her excellent product knowledge – she would have earned more if she’d been more enthusiastic.

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 www.gazetteers.com.

mystery shopper black thumbTo view more Mystery Shopper articles click here