Travel Weekly’s Mystery Shopper calls on travel agents across the UK each week to check agency appearance, brochure racking, product knowledge, sales technique and staff attitude

Travel Weekly’s Mystery Shopper in association with Gazetteers Plus.

Camberley, SurreySightseeing in China


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 visited Going Places, 1 Princess WayGoing Places
1 Princess Way

I had to wait a few minutes as both consultants were busy. I approached one when she became free (it didn’t look like she was coming to help me) and she selected the Kuoni Worldwide brochure. She found a tour featuring all three cities plus a couple of nights in Hong Kong, but she said it probably wouldn’t be suitable as it had fixed departure dates that might not fit in with the timing of my trip. I asked if I could join the tour part-way through or if she could tailor-make a trip, but she said not.

Score: 25%

Mystery Shopper visited Thomas Cook, 68a/70 High StreetThomas Cook
68a/70 High Street

This was an unusual agency as most of the staff were in the rear of the shop and there was just one consultant at the front to serve all the customers. Unfortunately she was busy so I returned later – by which time she’d gone for a break. When she appeared she gave me the Thomas Cook Tours brochure for some ideas, and Cosmos Distant Dreams. She couldn’t find an appropriate tour in the Thomas Cook brochure and said she wasn’t sure if Cosmos featured Xian so she apologised and said she couldn’t help.

Score: 40%

Mystery Shopper also visited Camberley Travel, 2a Princess WayCamberley Travel
2a Princess Way

There were lots of brochures on display, although many were crumpled. The consultant offered Travel 2’s dedicated China brochure, Airtours’ China brochure and Cultural Tours. She said Travel 2 was good as it would tailor-make anything I wanted. She showed me that it featured three-night packages in Shanghai, Beijing and Xian, including sightseeing. She dismissed Airtours, saying it featured only beach holidays and Beijing. She checked the weather and said it would be wet and cool, so she suggested I considered Malaysia.

Score: 58%

Mystery Shopper then visited First Choice, 84 The High Street First Choice Travel
84 The High Street

The only consultant was in the bureau de change, but she came out to help and then went to find a colleague, who asked if I was travelling alone or as part of a group. She said feedback from previous clients suggested it might be better to join a tour as China was not welcoming to independent travellers. Looking at the Hayes and Jarvis brochure she showed me a China Experience seven-night tour that covered the three cities. She said this might be ideal and I could book additional sightseeing options. Recommending Hayes and Jarvis, she said it was a flexible operator and would put together whatever I wanted. She offered to call the operator to see what was available on the dates I wanted. Regarding the flights, she said it might be cheaper to fly to and from Hong Kong, rather than returning from Beijing or Shanghai, as domestic flights in China were cheap. She also looked at the Airtours brochure, but said it featured only beach holidays. Checking the weather in the Hayes and Jarvis brochure, she said autumn temperatures were pleasant.

Score: 60%


Tip 1: Many tour operators, such as Kuoni, Hayes and Jarvis and Thomas Cook, offer escorted tours of China that include Beijing, Shanghai and Xian, and other cities too.

Tip 2: Hermis Travel and Travel 2 offer three or four-day sightseeing packages in Beijing, Shanghai and Xian, and can tailor-make a tour to combine all three cities.

Tip 3: Most operators can tailor-make a holiday to include Hong Kong.

Tip 4: The weather in October should be mild, warmer in Shanghai than Beijing or Xian, with some rain, though not as much as in UK.

Tip 5: Tours and tailor-made holidays can both be found on Gazetteers Plus under the special interest holidays; more than 20 operators are listed offering tours in China.


Mystery Shopper was going to a friend’s wedding in Hong Kong in early October and wanted to extend her visit into mainland China.

She wanted to book a tour or a tailor-made itinerary that would take in at least Beijing, Shanghai and Xian, home of the Terracotta Warriors.

Concerned that she might not be able to find her way around, she also wanted to pre-book excursions in each of the cities if she was to travel alone, rather than on a tour.

She wanted to know how warm it would be at that time of year, and whether the temperatures would be conducive to sightseeing.

Unfortunately two of the agents drew a blank. Both Going Places and Thomas Cook believed they could sell only what was featured in the brochures and, as they couldn’t find the exact itinerary requested, they gave up. Fortunately the other two were much better.

Logo: DG&G GazeteersAbout Gazetteers Plus

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