In association with Gazetteers Plus

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk Twin-centre holiday in Cuba

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 Thomson 280406THOMSON
15 Buttermarket

The consultant admitted she had never been to Cuba but she picked up a copy of Thomson Faraway Shores and showed me I could take an overnight excursion from the beach to Havana.   She then found a copy of the First Choice Tropical brochure, which offered two-night trips to Havana from the beach. She suggested Guardalavaca or the Cayos as an alternative to Varadero and said to go from November to May, pointing out there was twice as much rainfall in June as in November. However, she did also say it was a year-round destination.

Score: 49%

MS Thomas Cook 280406THOMAS COOK
43b Cornhill

I was served immediately by a consultant who recommended I twin Havana with the Cayos, which she said were typically Caribbean with white sandy beaches and only a few hotels.   She picked up the Thomas Cook Cuba brochure and showed me I could combine three nights in Havana with a week or more at a beach hotel. She also gave me Thomas Cook Signature, which she said offered more flexibility. She said winter is the best time to visit as the summer is hot, wet and prone to hurricanes. She didn’t give me a business card.

Score: 50%

MS Going Places 280406GOING PLACES
3 Abbeygate Street

I was left to browse for a few seconds before a consultant came to help.  She gave me a copy of Airtours’ dedicated Cuba brochure, which offered a three-day tour including Havana that could be combined with a beach holiday. She recommended Guardalavaca or the Cayos as alternatives to Varadero, but she said the former might be a better option as there was little to do on the Cayos. She said her parents had recently enjoyed a holiday in Guardalavaca. She told me to avoid going in the summer, which she said would be “miserable”.

Score: 50%

MS First Choice 280406FIRST CHOICE
14/15 St Johns Street

I was greeted by one consultant who said her mind had “gone blank” about Cuba so she had to ask a colleague when was the best time to visit.   The colleague said she always went in the summer as she found it a little cool in the winter, which everyone else thought was the best time to go. She said there was only sporadic rainfall in the summer and no danger of being hit by a hurricane as long as I went before October. As she had been to the island so often, I was surprised she didn’t take over the sale, but she walked off into the back office instead. The first consultant then gave me the First Choice Tropical brochure, pointing out I could combine three nights in Havana with a beach resort. When I asked her to recommend a resort, she had to consult with her colleague again. The colleague seemed offended I had suggested Varadero was downmarket, saying she had been there a few times and loved it. She said I should choose a hotel away from the main drag, but she struggled to recommend any off the top of her head. Eventually, she suggested Sandals.

Score: 59%


Tip 1: Cayo Coco is an island off the north coast of Cuba, largely undeveloped except for an area along its north coast. It has 17 miles of beaches of fine white sand, and also a wide range of marine and bird life.

Tip 2: Guardalavaca, originally a farming village, is another quieter resort with fine beaches, and is good for water sports and diving.

Tip 3: Airtours and Thomas Cook both feature twin centres with Havana and Cayo Coco; Airtours also twins Havana with Guardalavaca.

Tip 4: Rainfall is heaviest between May and October. The coolest and driest months are from November to April.

Tip 5: Details of multi-centre holidays can be found on Gazetteersplus under the ‘tour operators’ tab under the relevant resort page.


Mystery Shopper and her partner wanted a twin-centre holiday in Cuba, spending at least a week at a beach resort and one or two nights in the capital Havana.  They wanted to visit Havana either at the start or at the end of the holiday.

Though the couple had never been to Cuba, they had been told by friends the most popular beach resort, Varadero, was “full of chavs” so they wondered if agents could recommend a quieter resort that had a more authentic Caribbean feel but that could easily be twinned with Havana.

They wanted to stay in a quality hotel on a decent beach. The couple also wanted to know what time of year to visit for the best weather as they could take their holiday at any time.

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

mystery shopper black thumbTo view more Mystery Shopper articles click here