Logo: DG&G GazetteersTravel 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.

Hornchurch, EssexA cycling holiday in France


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.

MysteryFirst Choice
150 High Street

This was quite a nice-looking agency with well-stocked racks, but that’s about all that can be said about it. A consultant offered to help before I’d had time to look for brochures and she told me not to bother continuing because it definitely didn’t sell the sort of holidays I was looking for. I pressed her, suggesting it might be an option in some of the French brochures, but she just shook her head and said she was very sorry but they didn’t sell “that sort of holiday”. That might have been so but she didn’t bother to check.

Score: 21%

MysteryThomas Cook
138 High Street

I approached the consultant when it became apparent she was waiting for me to make the first move. She said the “specialist” holiday I was after would be available through a cycling club. She did check the French Life brochure, but said it didn’t offer cycling tours. She also looked at some lakes and mountains brochures, but found these offered only mountain biking, which we both agreed was probably too energetic. She popped the Crystal Lakes and Mountains brochure in a carrier bag for me and said it might be worth me taking a look at home.

Score: 44%

MysteryGoing Places
8 North Street

The consultant misheard my request and thought I was looking for a family holiday, so she suggested I tried a camping operator such as Keycamp, though they didn’t offer the sort of tour I was after anyway. She also came up with the novel suggestion that I took an Oasis cruise and hire bikes at each port of call. I repeated that I wanted a tour. She called French Life but was told that it didn’t organise tours, though it did organise bike hire. Eventually she looked at the Gazetteer but found the only operator listed was one Going Places didn’t sell.

Score: 49%

147 High Street

I was served straight away by a consultant who seemed very confident that she was familiar with the sort of holiday I was looking for and that she could find something to suit. This turned out not to be the case. She tried to sell me a Crystal Active holiday that included mountain biking as an option. I explained that I wanted a more leisurely cycling tour and she said I needed the Crystal beach brochure, but she didn’t have one in stock, though she offered to order me one. When I asked if she had anything else to offer me she pulled out the Thomson Al Fresco brochure, which she said organised cycling tours – in fact, she had taken one herself the previous year. It turned out, however, that the tours were merely day trips from a campsite. I explained again that I was looking to cycle to a different location every day, but she said this was the best she could offer. She suggested I might be able to travel between the operator’s three Atlantic coast campsites and pointed out that the one she had stayed at did offer several different day-long bike trips.

Score: 53%


Tip 1: A number of specialist tour operators offer cycling holidays in France, including Exodus, HF Holidays, Headwater Holidays and Saddle Skedaddle.

Tip 2: These all offer one-week cycling tours along the Loire Valley, as well as tours in several other parts of France.

Tip 3: Most of the tours are independent, but all luggage is transported from hotel to hotel in a separate vehicle.

Tip 4: They all also offer land-only or flight-inclusive options, and bike hire is either included or can be bought locally.

Tip 5: Details of cycling holidays can be found on Gazetteers Plus in the special-interest holidays section. However, many of the holidays listed are for mountain biking excursions rather than traditional cycling holidays.


Mystery Shopper and her friend wanted to take a cycling holiday somewhere in France, staying in a different hotel every night.

They were hoping to join an organised tour with an operator that would arrange for their luggage to be transferred every day, so they wouldn’t have to ride with all their belongings on their backs. They also wanted all the accommodation and travel to be pre-arranged.

They preferred to fly and hire bikes, but they didn’t mind travelling by ferry and train with their own bikes if necessary. Also, they didn’t mind where they went in France, but they were attracted to the Loire Valley because they assumed it would be less hilly than other French regions.

Is that request crystal-clear to you? Well, it certainly wasn’t to travel agents in Hornchurch, where results on the whole were very poor.

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 www.gazetteers.com.

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