Mystery ShopperBrief: A couple are looking for a romantic week in Antigua in March. They want the nicest hotel they can get for their budget, ideally somewhere without children around, and are looking for advice on which board basis and excursions to choose.

Budget: £4,000.

Verdict: The enthusiasm and detailed knowledge of staff at Thomas Cook gave them the edge over their competitors.

The Co-operative Travel

1 Market RoadChelmsford Co-operative

This friendly agent asked basic questions about my budget and destination, although she didn’t get any details of what we wanted to do while on holiday. She and her colleague didn’t seem to know much about the area and just used the brochure’s star ratings to compare resorts, which didn’t fill me with confidence.

I was offered Sandals Grande Antigua for £3,615 or Grand Pineapple Beach, Antigua for £2,855, both all-inclusive with flights departing on March 12 with British Airways or Virgin Atlantic. She was very patient but spent a long time on the phone waiting to talk to the tour operator, instead of checking the prices on her computer like all the other agents I visited. I also felt under pressure to make a decision.

Flight Centre

39 High StreetChelmsford Flight Centre

This shop was clean and tidy, but felt quite crowded as desks were very close to each other. The agent was friendly and attentive, asking all the relevant questions and checking whether the trip was to celebrate a special occasion. She knew a lot about the location, but I would have liked her to go through a few options with me instead of focusing on one resort straight away.

She suggested staying at the Verandah Resort & Spa, flying out on March 2 with Virgin Atlantic for £3,568 or with British Airways for £3,633. The shop had also run out of Virgin Holidays brochures so I was given one from a different operator, and although this had the resort details, it felt rather unprofessional.


5 The MeadowsChelmsford Thomson

This small shop was well presented and had a good variety of brochures. I was greeted straight away and the agent was quick to find out where and when I wanted to go, although she could have asked a few more questions to make the holiday personal to me.

She knew a lot about the area and I was really impressed that she turned her computer screen around so I could look at pictures and independent reviews of resorts she was recommending. She suggested staying in the Hawksbill by Rex Resorts for £3,591, or the Verandah Resort & Spa at £3,441, both all-inclusive through Hayes & Jarvis. The only drawback was she didn’t give me a brochure to take away.

Thomas Cook

8 High StreetChelmsford Thomas Cook

This shop window was very busy with lots of special offers and the staff were all smartly dressed and gave me a friendly welcome. The agent was quick to get the details she needed and talked me through the options, settling on all-inclusive as the best value.

She worked closely with a colleague who had been to Antigua before to give a first-rate explanation of the best resorts and find pictures online, as well as listening closely to what I wanted and finding hotels that suited all my requirements. She recommended flying out with British Airways and staying at St James’s Club in Mamora Bay, for £3,761 from March 1, or at the Verandah Resort & Spa for £3,519, both with Thomas Cook Signature.

The enthusiastic agents were really interested in getting me the right holiday and brought the destination to life in a way that no one else did.

Winning agent: Ellie Poole, apprentice agentEllie Poole, Mystery Shopper winner

“I’ve only been here a year and a half so it hasn’t been very long, but I love being able to get people the right holidays. If I don’t know about an area, then I will try and get as much help as I can by using brochures and talking to my colleagues.”

Tips: Top 5 tips for selling Antigua

Antigua is a haven for diving and sailing, playing host to international regattas and offering water sports such as windsurfing, water-skiing and snorkelling.

The island’s coastline curves into hundreds of coves and harbours, including 365 white, sandy beaches, one for each day of the year.

Must-see sites include the Indian Town National Park where the Atlantic and Caribbean surf collide at Devil’s Bridge, scenic Fig Tree Drive and historical highlights such as the island’s first sugar plantation at Betty’s Hope.

Nature lovers can visit the island’s rainforest, go on a bush safari in neighbouring Barbuda, a haven for wild deer and exotic birds, or take an excursion to Great Bird Island in a glass-bottomed boat.

Find out more about Antigua at