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.     

Hove, East Sussex A family cruise in the Mediterranean

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.

Flight Centre
29 George Street

The consultant nodded when she heard the request and I thought this meant she would be able to suggest a suitable cruise. I was mistaken. After taking a stroll over to the brochure racks she returned empty handed. It turned out that the shop had only just opened (you could smell the fresh paint) and it didn’t have any cruise brochures in stock. She suggested I called back “in about a month or so”. She said if I found a brochure elsewhere, she would be able to offer me a discount. What I really needed, though, was some advice.

Score: 45%

70 George Street

Both consultants were busy when I first called on this agency. Neither of them acknowledged me, even though one was only looking through her clients’ wedding photos. I returned later when both consultants were free. One said she wasn’t sure if they had any cruise brochures but her colleague found a copy of the Ocean Village brochure. She said it was the best operator for first-timers and families as it was relaxed and informal but with lots of activities. The brochure also contained a DVD. She told me to watch that and come back if I liked what I saw.

Score: 48%

43 George Street

The first impression I got was that this agency sold only Thomson holidays, as the first three brochure racks were dedicated to Thomson. There was a cruise section located towards the back of the shop, but I wasn’t surprised when the consultant gave me only a Thomson Cruise brochure. She said that was the best one for families, but she handed it over without highlighting the fact that it offered discounts for children up to 16. Her colleague suggested she gave me Ocean Village as well, which she said was “nice and relaxed” and was suitable for first-timers.

Score: 50%

Going Places
42 George Street

The consultant listened carefully to my request then came to the conclusion I was looking for a cruise and a ship that “offered something for everyone”. She pointed out that, although I had mentioned only the children’s needs, there should also be something for the adults, which I though was quite sweet. She immediately recommended Ocean Village and Royal Caribbean International, which she said offered relaxed, informal cruises. She said Ocean Village offered lots of activities on board and excursions for kids. She said I would need to fly to a point in Europe to pick up the Ocean Village cruise and she said if I wanted to sail from Southampton I should go for Royal Caribbean. Opening a copy of the brochure, she showed me it offered a selection of cruises from Southampton, varying in length. When I asked about sleeping arrangements she said I might have to upgrade to get a cabin large enough for five, but she said if I needed two separate cabins I could ask for them to be next door to each other. She said I would pay child prices for the twins.

Score: 59%


Tip 1: Cruise operators normally offer discounts for one or two children if sharing with two adults. If there’s only one adult, one child pays full price. Some operators offer discounts up to the age of 16.

Tip 2: Ocean Village and Island Cruises both offer informal cruises aimed at families, and have a range of Mediterranean cruises in the summer.

Tip 3: Island Cruises operates three seven-night itineraries from Majorca around Easter next year. There’s a kids’ club for children up to 11.

Tip 4: Royal Caribbean International and Princess Cruises have clubs for children and teenagers. Both sail to the Mediterranean from Southampton next summer.

Tip 5: Mediterranean cruises can be found at under western and eastern Mediterranean.


With seven-year-old twin boys and a 16-year-old daughter to accommodate, Mystery Shopper was hoping agents in Hove could recommend a cruise around the Mediterranean for next Easter that would offer entertainment for all ages. The family hadn’t cruised before, and didn’t know what to expect. Would one cabin be big enough, or would they have to pay for two? Mystery Shopper was keen to find an ex-UK cruise, but didn’t mind flying to Europe. She wanted to know whether her daughter would qualify for a children’s discount, or whether she would have to pay full price for any or all of the kids.

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