Can local agents deliver a perfect break on the southeast Asian island? Our secret reviewer finds out
A young couple want to go on a tour of Borneo sometime this summer. They want to see orangutans and like snorkelling. The tour might last 10- 14 days and they are keen to stick to their budget.
Verdict: Neither good product knowledge nor a friendly manner is enough alone – the winning agent had both
Marco Polo Travel
24a Park Street
The agent here seemed very knowledgeable about Borneo, and after checking on the internet was able to find a suitable tour – Explore’s 10-day Sabah Nature Watch – which cost £1,989 departing on June 1.
This didn’t include flights, as the agent said they could be arranged when I decided to book. I was given a business card and a brochure to take away. Although the holiday was suitable, I would have liked a choice of more than one tour.
The atmosphere was not friendly or welcoming, and it felt as if the agent was going through the motions and we didn’t build up a rapport. There were no posters in the entrance areas and the store was drab and uninviting.
Unit 28, The Galleries Shopping Centre
The experience here was the opposite of my visit to Marco Polo. The shop was very bright and attractive, and the agent who served me was extremely friendly, smiling a lot and showing enthusiasm, and listening carefully.
However, she didn’t actually provide me with any quotes. I was given the Intrepid Travel brochure and the agent’s business card, and she pointed out the pages with the Borneo tours on, but she didn’t take the enquiry any further, suggesting I read through the brochure myself. I needed more substance to accompany the great attitude and atmosphere.
48 Corn Street
This agent knew straight away which operators would offer suitable tours, checking Gap Adventures, Intrepid Travel and Imaginative Traveller. I had to volunteer some of the information but was then offered two options with Gap.
The 10-day Sabah Adventure was £929 and Best of Borneo cost £1,629, both excluding flights. The agent said these could be costed when booking, but would be about £900 for September, when she recommended we go.
The agent was initially friendly but the consultation was badly soured by a really pushy attempt to close the sale – the atmosphere changed and became frosty when I said I wouldn’t be booking that day.
The agent here was attentive and thorough, asking plenty of questions to make sure she knew exactly what I wanted. She also provided me with a great level of detail on the holiday she offered, and continually checked that I was happy with the features it provided.
After establishing availability with a phone call, she recommended Kuoni’s Borneo Adventure, a two-week tour for £3,938 including flights with Malaysia Airlines departing on September 6 – or for £3,994 including insurance.
She gave me a full printed quote and a brochure, and took my contact details so she could confirm the flight times. She also made additional conversation and built up a good rapport, making me feel she genuinely valued my custom.
I would recommend this agency – the only factor that really lost points was the very long wait to be served.
Winning agent: Kirsty Kumi, apprentice sales consultant
“I’m 18 years old and in my second year of apprenticeship, but I’m actually leaving travel to retrain as a midwife next week.”
- Borneo is one of the few places in the world where tourists can see orangutans in the wild. Other highlights include jungle trekking, visiting local tribes, stunning beaches and great dive sites.
- Clients can either take an escorted or private tour visiting a range of sights, or for a more relaxing holiday, base themselves at one resort near Kota Kinabalu and book excursions or a short tour out to explore.
- Gold Medal is offering an exclusive deal to Travel Weekly readers on stays at the redeveloped Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa, with seven nights for the price of five, and a free upgrade.
- Most UK visitors will fly into Borneo through Kuala Lumpur, so suggest a stopover of a couple of nights so clients can take advantage of the shopping opportunities.
- For more, see this week's Borneo feature and Gazetteers.com