Mystery Shopper in Guildford, Surrey

Travel Weekly’s Mystery Shopper calls on travel agents across the UK each week to check presentation, attitude and service.

Travel Weekly’s Mystery Shopper in association with     

Guildford, SurreyUK short break for a couple of empty-nesters

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, GuildfordFirst Choice
40 The Friary Centre, Guildford

I had to wait several minutes to speak to an adviser at First Choice. There were two employees and both were busy with customers.

When I eventually spoke to a consultant I was offered a couple of brochures to take away, one of them was Blakes Country Cottages.

The ‘advice’ consisted of my adviser, who seemed rather pre-occupied, letting me go away and find the short break myself, then come back to the shop to make the booking.

Very little effort was made to sell me anything. The consultant gave me a card but the phone number had been crossed out and another written in pen – the name was scribbled on too. This poor last impression summed up the treatment I received.

Score: 26%

American Express Travel Service, GuildfordAmerican Express Travel Service
38-40 High Street, Guildford

This travel agency was spacious and bright, with a large money exchange area. There were lots of brochures to look at and I was greeted almost straight away.My adviser asked me what I wanted and where I wanted to go.

I was fairly vague, hoping for some suggestions based upon what I had revealed, but instead of delving deeper and offering a choice of options, the consultant went off to get me a copy of the Blakes Country Cottages brochure which I was told to read at my leisure.

I was given a card and told to phone back if anything caught my eye, and the adviser explained the pricing structure inside the brochure so I could work out the costs. Not enough effort was made with my enquiry, even though I was obviously keen to book.

Score: 46%

Flight Centre, GuildfordFlight Centre
23 Swan Lane, Guildford

There was one other customer in the shop when I entered and I was served quickly. After explaining what I was after, my consultant started searching on her computer, which was facing away from me.

As I had nothing to do I started looking through some brochures that were on display. She printed a couple of property details for me to look at, at which point she asked what budget I had in mind, as she had been searching at the lower cost end.

I replied that I was flexible and she found another property to print off for me, which seemed to fit the bill. I said that I would talk to my wife and return to book.

My consultant suggested phoning if I wanted to go ahead. Overall the service was slick and very friendly.

Score: 76%

Thomas Cook, GuildfordThomas Cook
46 High Street, Guildford

Inside the shop there were six desks, with an adviser busy serving behind each one. I browsed the brochure racks and was approached by a young employee who asked if she could help.

I explained what I wanted and she asked a few questions about where I wanted to go and what sort of accommodation I wanted before finding a brochure about hotels in the UK.

Another adviser then became free and was much more helpful. I was offered a choice of regions and then showed lots of properties in my preferred area on her computer.

The agent checked availability for me on the phone and was able to give me a full quote for a weekend break, which was held for 24 hours for me. The service was very impressive all round.

Score: 90%

This week’s prize

Elite Island ResortsCongratulations, Thomas Cook, Guildford. One of your agents will be staying at Village Inn, St Lucia, courtesy of Elite Island Resorts, after coming top in this week’s Mystery Shopper.

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. Flights are not included. And 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.


Tip 1: Consult the UK regional tourist boards – all of them have excellent websites and specialists on hand to answer this type of question.

Tip 2: Suggest accommodation in or around one of the national parks – the North York Moors, for example, has a huge area of walking territory, plus a good selection of high-quality B&Bs and new accommodations such as Natural Retreats – luxury glass-fronted cabins.

Tip 3: Country house hotels are found in beautiful locations across the country – many in remote locations – so suggest car hire and insurance at the point of sale.

Tip 4: If food and wine are key interests for this couple, suggest tying their break in with a regional festival, booking tours of British vineyards or organic farms, or tables at key restaurants. Check out for information.

Tip 5: Tour operators such as Shearings Holidays and Superbreak offer a huge number of country house hotels which agents can sell as packages with other commissionable extras.


The UK’s ageing population is a valuable source of bookings for agents. Mystery Shopper set out to find the perfect domestic break for a well-heeled couple whose kids have departed and are now ready to live a little.

They like good food and wine, walking and outdoor pursuits. A nice country house hotel might have suited, but they didn’t know where and were prepared to take the agents’ advice.

It should have been an easy sell – but the standard of service from the four agencies surveyed varied wildly. Credit goes to Thomas Cook for making a real effort.


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