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.
|THE TARGET ?||WANTED ?|
|Fareham, Hampshire||Transatlantic Christmas shopping trip|
Agency appearance (15%)
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.
|FIRST CHOICE |
19 Westbury Mall
The consultant I approached seemed quite startled that I was asking her for advice on a shopping destination. She said most people went to New York, but when I asked which city offered the best bargains she again looked surprised that I should be interested in her opinion. She recommended New York because flights started at less than £200. Of course, when she looked at pre-Christmas prices packages were coming up at about £600, no more expensive than Toronto. She gave me a copy of the Hayes and Jarvis America and Canada brochure.
|THOMAS COOK |
38 Westbury Malls
The consultant recommended New York, saying Toronto was just as expensive and much colder, though she pointed out that its shopping centres were mostly underground. Helpfully, she said a friend had gone to New York last November and got some excellent bargains because the sales were already on. I was given the Thomas Cook America brochure but the shop didn’t have any brochures for Toronto – she didn’t offer to order any. She checked prices and said I would be paying about £600 for a three-night visit to New York or Toronto.
|GOING PLACES |
89 West Street
My consultant said New York was the most popular city for Christmas shopping – and not much more expensive than Toronto. But had I considered Boston? It is prettier than New York, much more manageable, but also offers good shops, she said. She also suggested Chicago, saying it was good for shopping although a longer flight. I was advised to book ASAP and told to avoid the end of November, which is the Thanksgiving holiday. She was the only agent to spot this. She gave me the Jetlife America brochure, but no business card.
|DAVIS WORLD TRAVEL |
23 West Street
As I went through the door I was greeted by the sight of bin bags lying in the doorway to the messy kitchen at the end of the shop. I also noticed there was not a lot of racking space and so very few brochures were on display. This was not a promising start. Still, things could only get better – and they did. The consultant was friendly, efficient and delivered clear-cut advice. She said she never been to Toronto so couldn’t recommend it, but she had been to New York and it was excellent for shopping. She also recommended Boston, Chicago and Washington. She said Boston would be the cheapest, gave me a few brochures, – including Gold Medal America – and showed me the choice of mid-town hotels in Boston. She compared prices to New York hotels and found they were as much as 50% cheaper in Boston. Flights to Boston at the end of November were available for about £200 per person. With accommodation, she said a three-night package would cost about £400 each. She gave me her business card and told me to book quick.
|TOP FIVE TIPS |
Tip 1: New York is an ideal shopping destination with more than 10,000 shops, including the famous Macy’s, Saks and Bloomingdale’s, plus the large toy store FAO Schwartz.
Tip 2: Boston is a popular alternative. It doesn’t have such a wide range of shops as New York, but it’s smaller and easier to walk around, and can also be cheaper.
Tip 3: Toronto has become a world-class shopping city, where the Eaton Centre has over 300 shops connected by underground walkways.
Tip 4: Toronto is generally much cheaper than either New York or Boston.
Tip 5: Thanksgiving is celebrated in the US on the last Thursday in November. It’s a time when many Americans like to be with their families, so flights are likely to be booked up early.
Mystery Shopper planned to take her teenage daughter to North America for a spot of Christmas shopping in late November.
New York seemed the obvious choice, especially as this would be her daughter’s first transatlantic trip, but she wondered if it might be cheaper to go to another US city, such as Boston, or even to Canada.
She’d heard there were better bargains in Toronto than New York and she wondered whether agents could advise her on the best option. Though sightseeing wasn’t the main motivation for the trip, Mystery Shopper did want to go somewhere with a ‘Christmasy’ atmosphere.
She wanted to go for a long weekend, preferably Friday to Monday and stay in a city centre hotel. While most of the agents were happy to suggest possible cities, only one was brave enough to tell her where to go. She was the obvious winner.
About Gazetteers Plus
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