Mystery shopper: Milton Keynes, an escorted group tour in New Zealand

Location: Milton Keynes
Wanted: An older couple would like to explore New Zealand on an escorted group tour. They have never been but would like to have a tour of the country’s highlights, such as Auckland and Christchurch, its most spectacular scenery and Maori culture. They’re flexible about when to travel in 2020 but want to make sure the weather will suit them and would prefer a three-week holiday. They also want advice about flight times, jet lag and entry requirements.
Budget: £10,000

The verdict

Both the Trailfinders and Kuoni agents came up with detailed and extensive itineraries that suited the mystery shopper’s request, albeit somewhat above budget. The shopper scored Trailfinders slightly higher thanks to the service and the lack of waiting time. The STA Travel quotation was by far the cheapest but the details were scant and the store was not very tidy.

Winning agent

Kaylee Starkey, travel consultant, Trailfinders 

“I regularly speak to clients who want to visit New Zealand as it is popular. A fly-drive or tour is the best way to make the most of your time there. I haven’t been with Trailfinders for too long but I’ve been in travel a few years. The training I have had on product and destinations since starting with Trailfinders has been extensive.”


Centre:MK, 19 Eagle Walk

Impressions: The store was clean and bright, while the staff looked presentable. The windows were largely clear so you could see inside. Shoppers could pick up leaflets that were on display outside.

Service: The store was not busy so I spoke to an agent straightaway. They asked me some questions about my requirements and talked about the itinerary they suggested. The agent gave me her undivided attention and was quite enthusiastic about the tour. I was not offered any additional products.

Quotes: My only quote was for a 21-day holiday with AAT Kings, with flights on Hong Kong Airlines from Heathrow, via Hong Kong, in January 2020. We would arrive in Christchurch and have a tour there, before moving on to Omarama, Dunedin, Milford Sound, Queenstown, Franz Josef, Punakaiki, Nelson, Wellington, Napier, Rotorua, Auckland and the Bay of Islands. It included an overnight cruise or a daytime cruise on Milford Sound, the chance to learn about
the Maori culture, and options for extra excursions such as a jet boat ride or helicopter tour. The total cost would be £10,964

Overall: The service was good and the agent was helpful but I would have preferred another quote to consider and compare.

150 Midsummer Arcade

Impressions: The shop was clean and tidy, and the staff looked smart in their uniforms with name badges. Displays were well presented.

Service: The shop was busy when I arrived so I had to wait about 15 minutes before an agent was free. The agent was quite friendly but didn’t try to close the sale or follow up afterwards. I was asked about places to visit and the type of tour required. The agent talked about Auckland and Christchurch and said the best time to go was the beginning or end of the year. We looked at pictures on the computer showing the beauty of the country. I received an email about the itinerary, as the agency has a paperless policy.

Quotes: The quote was for a 21-day AAT Kings holiday, called Spirit of New Zealand, departing from Heathrow in February 2020 with Singapore Airlines to Auckland, via Singapore. It would visit Christchurch, Mount Cook National Park, Dunedin, Lake Te Anau, Queenstown, Franz Josef, Nelson, the Abel Tasman National Park, Wellington and Auckland. It included a cruise on Milford Sound and the chance to learn about the Maori culture. The total cost was £10,778.

Overall: I would have wanted more information and another, cheaper quotation for comparison.

STA Travel
Intu, 67 Midsummer Place

Impressions: The shop was very small and narrow, so it was not possible to talk without being overheard. The staff were wearing hoodies, and a table in the agency looked a bit messy, with papers and wires on it.

Service: The agency was not busy so I was acknowledged immediately and spoke to an agent straightaway. The agent asked some questions about my requirements but said they cannot provide an exact quotation without passport details. They asked about when and where in New Zealand I would like to travel and suggested that the beginning and end of the year is good time to visit. They showed me some pictures on their computer about the destination and scenery.

Quotes: I received a handwritten note about the costs, timings and flights. The quote was with G Adventures for a 21-day tour, departing in February, 2020, from Heathrow, with flights via Singapore. The tour would start in Auckland, end in Christchurch and cost £7,346.

Overall: The agent was enthusiastic, and Googled images of the destinations to show me what the tour would look like. But I would have preferred more details about the holiday, airline and the accommodation – although it was by far the cheapest quote.


The top-scoring agent each week bags a £25 Amazon voucher, courtesy of Oasis Hotels & Resorts.

Oasis Hotels & Resorts offers five all-inclusive beachfront properties and two city-centre properties in Cancun, Mexico. They are:

Hotel Zone, Cancun
Grand Oasis Cancun; The Pyramid; Oasis Palm; Grand Oasis Palm; and brand new Grand Sens Cancun.

Downtown Cancun
Oh! The Urban Oasis; and Smart Cancun by Oasis. Oasis offers family-friendly resorts and adult-only experiences, as well as wedding and honeymoon packages.

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