Mystery Shopper: Luton, Bedfordshire

Each week Mystery Shopper visits a UK town to test local travel agents on presentation, attitude and service.

In association with     

Luton, BedfordshireA cruise for a family with young teenagers

Each week, Mystery Shopper calls on agents across the UK. Shops are judged on six criteria:

Internal/external appearance (25%)
Sales technique (25%)
Availability checked (10%)
Product knowledge (20%)
Details explained (10%)
Request matched (10%)

Please note, no additional information will be given about Mystery Shopper’s visits.

First Choice, LutonFirst Choice
65-67 George Street, Luton

There were three employees in the shop and two customers who were being served. After waiting a while, one of the agents asked how she could help.

I explained what I wanted and that we had previously been to Egypt. She suggested we could go to another part of Egypt.

I wanted to find out about cruise ships that had activities for teenagers. She asked her colleague about the FlowRider on Royal Caribbean cruises. She gave me one Royal Caribbean brochure and one from Island Cruises.

She went through some of the activities available but didn’t offer any further information. The agent did not give me her card and did not take my contact details.

Overall, she wasn’t proactive enough in helping me to find what I wanted.

Score: 36%

Thomson, LutonThomson
38 George Street, Luton

I was approached after three minutes and told the agent I was looking for holiday ideas for next year.

She asked who the holiday was for and what I had in mind. I explained that we had two teenagers and asked about cruising. She looked on the computer for availability on my requested dates. She offered me a cruise and I asked her for more information.

She looked at a brochure but found the cruise was not suitable for teenagers. She asked another employee what she would recommend. She offered the Thomson Cruises and Royal Caribbean brochures.

The service I received was not very friendly. She was very curt and made it clear she was not really interested when she found out I didn’t want to book that day.

Score: 54%

Going Places, LutonGoing Places
48 George Street, Luton

One of the agents seemed very reluctant to help, even averting her eyes when she saw me. But eventually someone came over and asked if they could help.

I told the agent I was looking for cruises suitable for teenage children She got an Airtours brochure first, as she said this was the main company they used, and then looked at Thomas Cook Escapes, Sunset Portugal and Madeira, The Cruise Store and Island Cruises.

I appreciated her attempt to help me but she had very little knowledge about the products. However, she did take my details and said one of the experienced employees would call me back.

The shop could do with a clean as there were stains and chewing gum on the floor, and the chairs had obviously seen better days.

Score: 59%

Thomas Cook, LutonThomas Cook
72 George Street, Luton

I was approached by an employee within 30 seconds. I explained we were interested in cruising and she passed me to a colleague who specialised in cruise holidays.

The cruise specialist asked me exactly what I was looking for and then recommended a cruise that involved flying to a Mediterranean port and starting the cruise there. She explained that there were organised excursions at each port for an extra charge or you could organise your own.

I looked at Ocean Village, Island Cruises, Thomson Cruises and Royal Caribbean brochures. She asked if I required travel insurance and airport parking. The information she gave me was very useful and she suggested I take my time to decide where I wanted to go.

She made me feel very welcome and also made me think about aspects of cruising I hadn’t considered before.

Score: 86%

Elite Island ResortsThe winning agent will be staying at Dian Bay, Antigua, courtesy of Elite Island Resorts.

Every week for the next year the travel consultant who gets the highest Mystery Shopper score will win a seven-night stay for two people at an Elite Island Resorts property.

The agent who scores the highest mark each quarter will receive a bonus prize. There will also be a grand prize for the agent declared the overall winner in June 2008


by Association of Cruise Experts director of business development Andy Harmer

Tip 1: Cruising has become very family friendly. Large ships offer more activities for children of all ages and have kids’ clubs on board.

Tip 2: P&O is launching super liner Ventura in April. Geared towards families, the ship will have four activity areas, a family restaurant, kids and parents-only pools and Noddy will be on board to entertain small children, while older kids can learn to play instruments.

Tip 3: Royal Caribbean’s Freedom-family ships are ideal for adventurous teenagers as they have rock-climbing walls, a wave simulator for surfers and scuba diving lessons.

Tip 4: Think about the travel arrangements pre-cruise. If the children hate flying, suggest a sailing from one of the many UK ports.

Tip 5: Check the minimum age for participation in a children’s club, as this varies. Some ships allow babies, some only accept children out of nappies while others impose a minimum age limit of two or three.


Mystery Shopper has heard cruising is becoming more family friendly and wants to find out if this is true or whether it is just marketing hype.

Where would be good for a first time family cruise and which ship has the right facilities to keep all the family happy?

Only one agency had a cruise specialist who really knew what questions to ask and how to find the ship that most suited the family’s requirements. Most agents were let down by a lack of knowledge.


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