Mystery Shopper: Bromley, Kent

Logo: DG&G Gazetteers    In association with Gazetteers Plus

Bromley, Keny A family boating holiday in France

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 260506 thomas cookTHOMAS COOK
139-141 High Street

This was a spacious agency with lots of racking space for brochures. I browsed for a minute or two before catching the eye of one consultant who came over to help. She said she didn’t think the agency offered boating holidays. She picked up the Blakes Country Cottages brochure, which she said included boating holidays but not in Europe. She had a further vague look around the racks but found nothing and suggested I went on the Internet and Googled ‘barges’ to try to find an operator. So yet another potential customer lost to the web.

Score: 27%

mystery shopper 260506 going placesGOING PLACES
97 High Street

The consultant went to look for brochures and came back with French Collection and turned to a page that included details of cruisers for hire. She said she had wanted to offer me a Hoseasons brochure but she didn’t have any in stock. She suggested I had a look at the French Collection brochure and if I didn’t “get on with it”, I should go back to look at the shop copy of Hoseasons. She said I didn’t need any sailing experience “just plenty of common sense”, adding the holiday would be “a great laugh” for a family.

Score: 50%

mystery shopper 260506 worldchoiceINVICTA TRAVEL
214 High Street

The two consultants were standing outside the shop chatting, but they both followed me in. One of them found the Worldchoice-branded Blakes Holiday Boating brochure. She showed me it offered itineraries in France and suggested I took it away and call her or e-mail her later with any questions. Wanting a few answers on the spot, I asked if the holiday was suitable for children and she said it was “perfectly safe”, but she said I might need some experience. She said she would check with the operator when I had chosen a holiday.

Score: 51%

mystery shopper 260506 thomsonTHOMSON
1 Widmore Street

Although it had a good corner location, this agency didn’t create a first great impression. The windows were dirty and it was quite cramped inside. I was served straight away by a consultant who started off with a very positive attitude. She said she was sure she had some boating brochures in stock and she checked on her computer to see which ones to offer me. She found that Hoseasons was probably the best but unfortunately the agency was out of stock. Undeterred, she called the operator to find out if I needed any experience and was told I didn’t if I went to France but sailing holidays in Italy did require some prior knowledge of sailing. She asked the operator if such a holiday was okay for kids and she was told it would be safe. She asked Hoseasons to send a brochure to my home and she gave me her card, asking me to call her if I needed any further help when I’d had a chance to look at the brochure. Even without a brochure to hand, this agent answered more of my questions than the other agents had managed to do.

Score: 60%


Tip 1: Blakes, Hoseasons, Brittany Ferries and Crown Travel all offer cruiser hire on canals and rivers in various regions of France. Crown Travel has quite a large selection of both boats and bases.

Tip 2: No experience is required. You are given instructions on how to handle the boat before you leave the boatyard, and you may also be accompanied by a crew member for a short distance.

Tip 3: All but the smallest boats have a shower and cooking facilities.

Tip 4: There is no minimum age limit for children.

Tip 5: River-boating holidays can be found on Gazetteersplus under the special-interest category ‘boating’; there are currently five operators listed there for France.


Mystery Shopper, her husband and three children, aged 8, 10 and 14, were planning their first boating holiday in France. They were considering hiring a barge or a cruiser and wanted to know whether they needed any experience – neither Mystery Shopper nor her husband had sailed before. They also wanted to know whether such a holiday was recommended for children, particularly as young as eight. As first-timers to this kind of holiday, they were keen to find out as much as possible from travel agents, including where they could hire boats, what the facilities on board would be like, and how much instruction they would be given before being let loose on the waterways of France. For more on boating holidays, download our colour flow chart here.

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