Mystery Shopper: Penrith, Cumbria

Logo: DG&G Gazetteers    In association with Gazetteers Plus

Penrith Japan city break and Asia beach stay

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.


Image © Taxi
 © Taxi
0870 0500808

After failing to find a tour of Japan on the Expedia website, I called the customer service number. My call was answered after a few seconds. The consultant said I couldn’t book a tour but I could book flights to Japan and accommodation in Tokyo and Kyoto on the website. He suggested I “might” be able to fly from Tokyo to a beach resort, “maybe in Malaysia”, but admitted he didn’t know. He suggested I looked at for more information. Clearly Expedia is aimed only at those booking flights and accommodation, but definitely not tours.

Score: 27%

mystery shopper - 310306 - thomas cookTHOMAS COOK
7 Middlegate

Either I was speaking Russian or the consultant in this shop had hearing difficulties. First of all she showed me holidays in Malaysia, then holidays in China. When I reminded her that I was looking for Japan, a colleague told her to give me the Virgin brochure. It featured accommodation in both Tokyo and Kyoto. When I asked if Virgin offered any tours she seemed quite surprised and said that if I’d said that if I’d asked for that in the first place (I had) she would have given me the Thomas Cook Tours brochure straight away.

Score: 37%

mystery shopper - 310306THOMSON
40 Middlegate

I was served by a pleasant consultant who said that Kuoni offered exactly what I was looking for. She gave me a copy of the operator’s Worldwide brochure and showed me that it had a tour of Japan, featuring Tokyo and Kyoto, with the option to extend the trip with a few nights in Phuket, Thailand. When I asked if I could go to another beach resort I was told Kuoni would give me whatever I wanted. She said that Premier Holidays also featured similar tours of Japan, but the agency was out of brochures. Sadly, she didn’t offer to order one for me.

Score: 50%


Image © First Light
 © First Light

The consultant asked some pertinent questions, such as when I planned to travel and how much I wanted to spend. Her first suggestion was that I should spend three nights in Tokyo, travel by train to Kyoto for three nights and then fly to Bangkok, from where I could travel by road to one of the beach resorts in southern Thailand. She said she would contact operators and get back to me within a couple of days. An hour later she called back to say that initial talks with operators had revealed that June was the rainy season and also an expensive time to visit Japan as it’s a popular holiday time for the Japanese. She asked if I could go later. She called back two days later to say that colleagues had suggested September was a good time to go, both for the scenery and affordability. I was offered a 12-day tour with Explore for £1,999, which ended on a Japanese island, which was a good alternative to a beach resort, or a budget tour with Intrepid for about £1,000. She said she had also found some “nice” tours with Thomas Cook and offered to put all the brochures in the post.

Score: 75%


Tip 1: Many operators, including Cultural Tours, Gold Medal, Thomas Cook, Travel 2 and Virgin, offer nine and 10-day escorted tours of Japan. These include Tokyo, Mount Fuji, Hakone and Kyoto. Some have longer tours visiting places such as Hiroshima and Osaka.

Tip 2: Both of Thomas Cook’s tours can be combined with a beach stay on the Japanese island of Okinawa.

Tip 3: Kuoni offers a two-centre holiday of Tokyo and Kyoto, with an optional extension in Phuket.

Tip 4: Specialist operator Jaltour has a wide selection of tours; these can be tailor-made with Bali or Malaysia.

Tip 5: Tours of Japan can be found on Gazetteers plus under specialist interest holidays; There are currently 15 operators listed under Japan.


Mystery Shopper planned to combine a trip to Japan with a beach holiday in Asia. She wanted to visit Tokyo and Kyoto on an organised tour then travel on to a beach resort for a few days. If the beach extension was too expensive to be feasible, her alternative plan was to take a longer tour of Japan. She was hoping agents could come up with some suggestions about other places that could be included in her itinerary. She wanted to go for 10 to 14 days and had a budget of about £2,000. Although she planned to go in June she told agents she was flexible and could alter her dates if there was a better time to travel. The two shop-based consultants clearly didn’t know enough about Japan to advise her in this respect (and Expedia was no help at all) but the homeworker rose to the challenge, finding her a selection of suitable holidays.

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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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