Location: Bishop Auckland, County Durham
Shopping for: An adventurous cruise around lesser-known Scandinavia

The agencies

Thomas Cook
49 Newgate Street, Bishop Auckland

Score: 51%

This agency looked good from the outside. It had a clean and eye-catching window display, well-stocked shelves and was brightly lit.

The consultant greeted me with a pleasant smile as soon as I entered and after I browsed the brochures, she came over to see if she could assist me. I explained my request, but at this point she did not offer me a seat, but instead advised me about brochures.

The consultant mentioned Princess Cruises, Hurtigruten, Freestyle Cruising Europe and P&O Cruises. The agent gave me an idea of prices and advised me to look at
the brochures at my leisure and call in if I needed any further assistance.

The Co-operative Travel, 95 Newgate Street, Bishop AucklandThe Co-operative Travel
95 Newgate Street, Bishop Auckland

Score: 79%

This shop was well presented. The consultant immediately approached me and after I explained what I was looking for, she narrowed down my search.

She asked lots of questions about the type of cruise I was looking for, offering personal experience and recommendations.

She suggested P&O Cruises’ Ventura, costing £1,069. Other prices were quoted and she said rates were available in the brochures. She did not check availability.

She suggested I take the brochures home to digest the information and gave me her business card, but did not take my details. She was helpful and enthusiastic and her personal experience was invaluable.  

Hays Travel, 83 Newgate Street, Bishop AucklandHays Travel
83 Newgate Street, Bishop Auckland

Score: 95%

The agent was welcoming and built up an immediate rapport when I entered the shop.

She used an enquiry form and ask detailed questions about my requirements and admitted that she had not booked this type of holiday before.

She sought the advice of a knowledgeable colleague and then rang Hurtigruten. The cruiseline recommended a seven-night holiday on board Finnmarken, which sailed into the Arctic Circle, costing £1,548 per person. She then gave me her business card.

The service was impressive and the agent worked hard to give me information, find something to suit my needs and help me choose.

The winner

Thomson, 90 Newgate Street, Bishop Auckland Thomson
90 Newgate Street, Bishop Auckland

Score: 99%

The agent put me at ease straightaway, asking me to sit down and offering refreshments.

She said it was the first request she had had for an Arctic cruise and that it was very exciting. She asked me if I would mind flying from an alternative airport if it was cheaper than Newcastle.

She sought the advice of an agent who had excellent cruise knowledge and recommended a cruise on Nordlys with Hurtigruten, costing £2,945.

She included insurance and airport parking and said she would be able to price-match another agency. She tried to close the sale by saying availability was limited.

On leaving, she said she hoped to see my holiday photos on return. This agency won over Hays, as she secured a discount and included insurance and airport parking.

  • For an inside look at this and previous Mystery Shopper features, see Emily Ashwell’s Community Editor Blog

Selling tips

Tip 1: Cruise companies are becoming adventurous with their product. Hurtigruten has an astronomy voyage with lectures on the Northern Lights and a cruise that explores the cultural traditions of the Sami and Kven communities.

Tip 2: Discuss shore excursions, including dog-sledding, a snowmobile safari, trips to the edge of Russia or North Cape, Europe’s most northern point, or a Viking feast.

Tip 3: The Northern Lights are best seen on a clear, cloudless night, between September and April, but the best time is November to February. However, there is no guarantee of seeing them at any time. 

Tip 4: Despite winter being the best months for seeing the Northern Lights, this has to be balanced against fewer hours of daylight and less opportunity to
see sights from the ship.

Tip 5: To get more product knowledge about Scandinavia visit www.gazetteers.com. The site also contains photos of resorts and hotel reviews from fellow agents.

Mystery Shopper prizes

Elite Island ResortsEach month’s highest scoring travel agent gets the chance to drive a Porsche Boxster S courtesy of Elite Island Resorts. More at www.travelweekly.co.uk/elite

Mystery Shopper scoring system

  • 60% Advice and product knowledge
  • 12% Customer service
  • 8% External/internal appearance
  • 7% Welcome
  • 7% Farewell
  • 6% Staff presentation