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.     

Solihull, West MidlandsA family holiday to Eilat

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.

Thomson at 55 High Street, Solihull scored lowest with 19%, making them joint 'shop of horrors' this week (August 4 2006)Thomson
55 High Street

The poor consultant in this agency had been let loose on clients long before she was ready. She hadn’t a clue where to find Eilat and when a colleague, who was busy with another client, suggested she looked in the new Thomson Asia and Arabian Gulf brochure, it was clear she didn’t even know how to use a brochure. She couldn’t find the index and when she did, she discovered it didn’t actually feature Eilat. She went into the back room to ask another colleague for help and, it seemed, was told to advise me to look at – which doesn’t exist!

Score: 19%

Going Places at 86 High Street, Solihull fared little better, with an abysmal 21%, making them joint 'shop of horrors' (alongside Thomson - August 4 2006)Going Places
86 High Street

The consultant appeared to be wilting in the summer heat. She offered to help straightaway but barely had the energy to make it to the brochure racks. Failing to find any Eilat brochures, she went to the back office but returned empty handed. I asked if the agency might be getting more brochures and she replied that she didn’t even know which operators featured Eilat. A colleague helped her by suggesting Panorama and Longwood, but the consultant who was serving me said the agency only ever got a few copies of each. I think she needed to lie down.

Score: 21%

Travelcare, of 33 Drury Lane, Solihull just scraped by with a not very impressive 30% (August 5 2006)Travelcare
33 Drury Lane

The only available agent disappeared into the foreign exchange the moment I went in. She asked if I needed help, but I had to shout through the glass to make myself heard. Eventually she came out clutching some brochures, but they were mostly for Egypt. When I asked if Eilat was safe she said operators were still selling holidays to Egypt. I asked if they were also selling trips to Israel and she asked with a colleague, who said she thought so but added “not everyone wants to go there”, which wasn’t very encouraging. I left with Panorama’s Eilat brochure.

Score: 30%

Co-Op Travel managed to score an impressive 69%, making them the Mystery Shoppers 'commended' store for this week (August 4 2006)Co-op Travel
82 High Street

At last, here was an agent who knew where Eilat was, probably because she had been there. She said it was a great choice for a family holiday, with lots of sightseeing, bars and restaurants. She said not all of them were child-friendly, but many were. She said the weather would be “beautiful” in October, adding that it would be in the 80s or even 90s. Opening the Panorama brochure she showed me it offered a good selection of hotels. As there were so many restaurants in the resort, she suggested I booked accommodation on a bed-and-breakfast basis, but added that some of the hotels would allow me to upgrade to all-inclusive on a daily basis if I wanted to. She said operators were still taking bookings for Eilat but she said if the Foreign and Commonwealth Office ruled it was unsafe after I had booked, the operator would give me the choice of a full refund or an alternative holiday. She explained that if I cancelled the holiday, but the operator considered there was no reason not to go, I would risk losing the full cost of the trip.

Score: 69%


Tip 1: Eilat is situated in the southernmost part of Israel on the shores of the Red Sea, almost 200 miles from Jerusalem.

Tip 2: Many of the hotels have good family facilities and kids’ clubs. Longwood and Panorama Holidays both offer a wide selection.

Tip 3: The FCO warns against travel to certain areas of Israel, but Eilat is not considered dangerous.

Tip 4: Operators are continuing to sell Eilat as normal. But if the situation changes and the FCO advises against travel, this would be considered ‘force majeure’. Customers are not automatically entitled to a refund in such circumstances, and should find out what the operator’s policy is.

Tip 5: If a customer “changes their mind”, they would be subject to the operator’s normal cancellation policy.


Mystery Shopper was planning a family holiday to Eilat, the southernmost city of Israel (it seems not many of this week’s agents knew this), during the school half-term holiday in October, but, with renewed fighting between Israel and Lebanon, she was worried it might not be safe.

She was seeking reassurances from agents in Solihull that the destination was still considered okay for a family holiday. She also wanted to know what would happen if she booked a trip and changed her mind later, or if fighting escalated to such an extent that the operator decided to cancel its holidays. Would she get a full refund?

As she had never been to Eilat before, she was hoping agents would be able to recommend the best hotel with child-friendly facilities. The response from three out of the four agents was abysmal.

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