Mystery shopper: Barnstaple, a walking holiday in Italy

Location: Barnstaple
Wanted: A mature couple would like a week’s walking holiday in Italy, as part of an escorted group tour. They don’t want anything very strenuous but want somewhere with great scenery and sightseeing.

They are flexible about travel dates but would prefer to visit during spring or autumn so the weather is not too hot. As well as the itinerary for the tour, they would like to know about flights, group sizes and accommodation on the holiday.
Budget: £2,600


The personal experience and recommendations from The Destination Lounge impressed the shopper and easily sealed the deal. Go Travel’s agents offered suitable options, despite not being as confident in their abilities as they should. The Tui agent was keen and offered options in Italy and additional services – but the holiday quote was not what the shopper was seeking.

Winning agent 

Nicola Yeo, branch manager

“It is quite an unusual holiday but we are the type of agency that thinks the more interesting a request the better. I’d been to Vietnam with Exodus, so I could recommend the smaller group size, and had just come back from a fam trip to the Amalfi coast so I could show her my photographs.”


The Destination Lounge
8 Gammon Walk

Impression: The window display featured offers without being too cluttered, and the shop was nicely decorated with smartly dressed employees.

Service: I was dealt with immediately as there were no other customers. The agent knew of a company that would suit my requirements, saying they’d had personal experience. I also asked about options other than flying and was impressed they regularly work with a rail company. The agent knew Italy well, recommending several areas that would be good for walking. When the phone rang, they ignored it and continued to focus on me.

Quotes: Both quotes were seven-night holidays with Exodus departing in April 2020. The first flying from Bristol with easyJet for the Walking the Amalfi Coast tour, staying in Hotel Due Torri on a B&B basis. It cost £2,558 with flights or £2,198 for just the tour. They recommended Amalfi as they visited this year and showed me pictures of their trip. They said the scenery was lovely and there was plenty of opportunity for lovely walks. They rated Exodus highly, having been on their tours before. The second quote was Walking the Prosecco Hills and would cost £2,598.

Overall: The holidays were exactly what I wanted and looked lovely. They were really knowledgeable about the trips that Exodus provides.

Go Travel
3 Holland Street

Impression: The lighting was a bit dim and the window display was a bit cluttered with holiday offers. Staff were tidy and presentable but one had their shoes off under the table.

Service: The agents were friendly and patient but seemed reluctant to help when I said what I was looking for. They asked if I could come back tomorrow because their colleague would be able to help me better as their parents had just returned from a walking tour in Italy. They didn’t take any contact details other than my name and didn’t seem confident in their knowledge of such holidays. However, they suggested that Exodus would suit a younger group and Explore would have older people.

Quotes: Both were seven-night Amalfi coast walking holidays with Explore, departing from Gatwick with easyJet. We would stay in a family-run farm accommodation with some meals. The May departure would cost £2,398 and the September option would cost £2,500. They said this tour would have more mature travellers and is one of Explore’s most popular holidays.

Overall: They gave me their undivided attention and were enthusiastic – but not confident about their ability to help. They have the skills to find the correct holidays but need more confidence in that ability.

4 High Street, Green Lanes Shopping Centre

Impression: The shop was spacious and well lit. Staff wore uniforms and the windows had clear posters displaying currency and winter holiday offers.

Service: Staff were with customers when I arrived and one came to the information desk to say they could help me shortly. They didn’t know about any particular walking tours but recommended the Lake Garda region, suggesting that we search online for guided walks that we could book once there. They also recommended we consider Inghams, which Tui could book for us after we’d looked at options. I was asked about travel insurance and airport parking.

Quotes: I got one quote, departing in May from Bristol to Verona with Tui Airways, for seven nights. We would stay at Hotel Astoria, Lake Garda, on a B&B basis for £2,200. They asked about pre-booking seats and additional luggage requirements for bulky walking boots. This area was recommended because of the short transfer from Verona and ease of access to other places nearby. The holidays were nice but guided walks would have to be booked separately.

Overall: The agent was pleasant and enthusiastic, and certainly knew about Italy, but they couldn’t offer a tour that included walking tours within the price of the holiday.


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