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Stevenage, HertfordshireA family holiday in the Caribbean

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.

MS Thomas Cook 140406Thomas Cook
89 Queensway

The shop was busy but a couple of consultants were free and I was served by one, who went to the racks and handed me a copy of the Thomas Cook Signature brochure, without bothering to open it. When I asked if she could recommend a specific hotel, she said family properties were listed at the front of the brochure, but she didn’t take the trouble to show me any. I asked if Barbados was the best island for families and she said St Lucia was also good, but she didn’t expand on that and I gave up.

Score: 33%

MS travelcare 140406Travelcare
4 Town Square

There were a couple of consultants available and one went to look for brochures. Her colleague said she had just booked a family to the Radisson in Barbados with Virgin, but she wasn’t able to put her hands on a brochure. The first consultant returned with a First Choice Tropical brochure and found the Almond Beach Village, which she said was good for families, although she seemed a bit vague. She said there were lots of other hotels in the Caribbean, but pointed out they would be mostly all-inclusive. She handed over the First Choice brochure and her business card.

Score: 45%

MS first choice 140406First Choice
82 Queensway

The consultant picked up the First Choice Tropical brochure and suggested the Riviera Maya in Cancun, saying it was quieter than Cancun and had a lovely beach. She said Barbados, St Lucia and Antigua were also good value. She then took advice from a colleague who said the only Caribbean island with good family hotels was Jamaica. She then said, rather confusingly, that the larger hotels in the Dominican Republic would be the ones most likely to have kids’ facilities. The first colleague then said the Iberostar hotels were good for families. I was left feeling confused.

Score: 50%

MS Going Places 140406Going Places
50 Queensway

The shop was busy the first time I called but when I returned 20 minutes later I was served straight away. The consultant said she only had one brochure for the Caribbean, which was Tradewinds Worldwide Holidays. Opening it up she showed me the Almond Beach Village in Barbados, which she said was good for families as it had larger-than-average rooms that could sleep four. Reading through the hotel description, she said it had lots of facilities such as kids’ clubs and toddler pools and it was highlighted as being popular with families. She said the resort was totally dedicated to kids as couples were accommodated separately in a different part of the resort. She went on to say I could also go to “any other” Caribbean island, including St Lucia and Antigua as they were all geared up to the family market, although she didn’t recommend any other hotels. She didn’t offer to check prices or mention any special offers for children. She handed over the brochure, which wasn’t marked with the agency’s details and she didn’t give me a business card or make any suggestion I should return to book.

Score: 59%


Tip 1: Barbados has the most hotels with family facilities. Many are all-inclusive.

Tip 2: The Almond Beach Village is large family-orientated all-inclusive resort with a wide range of facilities. These are also available to guests staying at the nearby sister Almond Beach Club.

Tip 3: St Lucia has many family-friendly hotels. The Windjammer Landing has lots of facilities including two children’s pools, a kids’ club and a teen club.

Tip 4: There are many hotels on Antigua, Cuba, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Mexico’s Riviera Maya which have good facilities for children.

Tip 5: Kuoni’s Family Holidays brochure features hotels with kids’ clubs on seven Caribbean islands plus the Bahamas and Riviera Maya.


Mystery Shopper was looking for a family-friendly hotel in the Caribbean. She thought Barbados might be a good place to start looking, but she was willing to consider other islands if agents’ could recommend properties that catered well for kids.

She didn’t particularly want an all-inclusive hotel but she did want children’s facilities such as kids’ clubs and babysitting.

Only a couple of agents were able to recommend a specific hotel and only one of them did so with any conviction.

The First Choice consultants, though trying their best to be helpful, gave contradictory advice and the Thomas Cook consultant totally copped out by telling Mystery Shopper to look through the brochure.

Interestingly, none of the agents asked the age of the children or how much Mystery Shopper was willing to spend, both of which would have been important factors.

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