Brief: A couple want to go to the Algarve in late June or July, before it becomes too crowded with families, for a week in the sun. They'd like a four-star hotel with a good beach and a golf course nearby, but don't want anywhere too built-up.
Verdict: Excellent customer service and detailed knowledge set the winning agent apart from the rest.
The Co-operative Travel
204 High Street
This agency was bright and attractive outside. When I went in it was very busy, and it took eight minutes before anyone offered help. The agent was polite but seemed to rush and not listen very carefully to what I wanted. I was offered a couple of packages that weren’t suitable before we hit upon the Tivoli Marina in Vilamoura, for £1,422 with Thomas Cook.
I was given a printout with a brochure and business card, but the agent did not take my name or my details so I knew they would not follow up. Although I ended up with a good package within my budget, I would not have felt confident booking because the agent had not told me much about the hotel. I left feeling that my custom was not very highly valued.
159 High Street
I browsed through the brochures for five minutes before a friendly and efficient agent offered to help, asking me lots of questions to find out what sort of holiday I wanted. She was quite knowledgeable about the Algarve but still spent time looking through the brochures and doing research to source the best golfing holiday for me.
She eventually suggested staying self-catering at the Old Village Apartments in Vilamoura, for £1,034 with Airtours. This consultant was quite thorough, and covered airport car parking, insurance and car hire as well as accommodation. She was encouraging but didn’t pressure me to make a booking, and I left feeling quite excited about the holiday she had found.
212 High Street
A cheerful agent greeted me with a friendly smile as soon as I entered this smart-looking shop, and listened patiently while I explained my requirements. Although she didn’t seem to have much personal knowledge of the Algarve, she was happy to spend time researching the resorts and used previous customers’ feedback to find a suitable package for me, settling on the CS Atlantic Sao Rafael Hotel with Thomson, for £1,980.
The quotation was higher than my budget but from what the agent told me, I was convinced that it would suit my needs well and she was very positive in recommending it. I left the store feeling that I had everything I’d asked for and that the holiday she had suggested would suit me perfectly.
Winner: Worlds Apart Travel
15 Clarence Parade
This shop looked a bit tired from outside but I received a warm welcome when I went in. The agent was very enthusiastic and spent a lot of time asking questions to find out what I was looking for and searching for a package. She had good personal knowledge of the area, including the hotels and their facilities, and described the Tivoli Marina in Vilamoura in so much detail that I felt very confident she was giving me a genuine recommendation.
She offered me a quote of £1,583 with Classic Collection for a suite with a sea view, and suggested private transfers and complimentary lounge passes. Although she didn’t take all my contact details, I had a written quotation, brochure and business card to take home and discuss with my partner. The warmth and expertise of this agency made it a clear winner.
Winning agent: Maria Gethins, director
“My husband and I own a couple of agencies, so we’ve travelled quite extensively, and our main strengths are Europe and the Caribbean. Clients come in really enthusiastic, and as you plan their holiday you get excited about where they’re going as well.”
Tips: Top 5 tips for selling Portugal
The Algarve, Lisbon area and Madeira are the most popular golfing destinations, with dozens of famous courses including the Penina Championship Course near Portimão.
Visitors should pop into local cafes to try pasteis de nata (custard tarts sprinkled with cinnamon) or the famous Serra de Estrela cheese made in central Portugal.
Book an excursion to swim with dolphins at Zoomarine animal park near Albufeira, or a 4x4 tour of the Algarve’s beautiful scenery followed by a Guadiana river cruise.
Guimarães, European Capital of Culture 2012, is within easy reach of Porto and hosts a celebration of art, music, cinema and photography this year. Funchal hosts the Madeira Flower Festival in April, while sweet-toothed travellers can visit Óbidos for March’s International Chocolate Festival.
Find out more about Portugal at www.gazetteers.com.