Brief: A couple want to soak up some sun with a beach holiday, and several friends have recommended the area around Dubrovnik. They want peace and quiet so they’d prefer June or early July, before the school holidays start. They’re looking for a four or five-star hotel with good facilities and would also like some tips on excursions they could try.
Verdict: The friendly winner offered a package on the spot, but also followed up with other options by email.
Winner: Broadway Travel
The website was my first port of call for this agency and I found it very welcoming, with lovely pictures, a fast search engine and a really helpful online chat facility, where you could ask questions and receive an instant answer from an agent. The assistant I spoke to was friendly and quickly established exactly what I was looking for.
He suggested the first package – flying from Gatwick to Dubrovnik on June 10 and staying at the four-star Grand Hotel Park on bed and breakfast, for £1,163 in total – by phone. He then emailed it over straightaway along with two other options, the five-star Ariston Hotel and four-star Valamar Dubrovnik President.
He couldn’t book any excursions but gave me tips on calling the hotel beforehand to check what they had available. I was impressed by how prompt and personalised the service was, and I felt this agent took the stress out of booking a holiday.
Winning agent: Simon Tilbrook, travel consultant
“I’m just embarking on my second year with Broadway Travel and with their marketing, training and support, I feel they are a leading light within the travel industry. There is always so much to learn, and never a dull moment, which is why I thoroughly enjoy my job. I love the idea of providing my clients with the perfect holiday they deserve.”
This eye-catching website had a clever search tool which allowed me to build my holiday step-by-step, choosing the flights, the hotel and any extras, with plenty of pictures of the accommodation. I found this very user-friendly and it made it easy to adjust the holiday to my needs.
I spoke to an enthusiastic agent who asked lots of questions about when and where I wanted to go, and started looking for a package straightaway. A quote was emailed 20 minutes later for £912 in total including flights and a week’s B&B at the Orphee Hotel and Villas Plat, with prices if I wanted to add transfers or car hire.
I was a bit surprised the agent hadn’t asked for my name, as that meant the email couldn’t be addressed directly to me, and that only one package was offered as there was room in my budget to upgrade the hotel. Even so, I was impressed by the service and would recommend this agency.
I liked the attractive pictures on this agency’s website, although I thought it was a bit formal and didn’t quite convey the fun side of holidays. The search facility was quite good as although it initially only brought up one ‘best value’ package, I soon realised you could adjust the requirements and find other options, although this ends up being a bit time-consuming.
When I rang, the agent seemed friendly but our conversation was quite rushed and only lasted a couple of minutes. The assistant took my phone number – although surprisingly not my name – and offered to do a bit of research and call back with some packages. However, I never received a call and hadn’t been given a direct number to ring the same agent back again. All in all, it was a very disappointing experience.
Want to know how you could have scored 100%? We look at some options to make Mystery Shopper's ideal itinerary
Croatia is one of those word-of-mouth destinations that seem to have exploded in popularity over recent years. Tourists enjoy the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic Sea and the charming east-meets-west blend of European culture.
The country is particularly popular with travellers who have already seen the best of the Med, but want something that’s still in their comfort zone. Although as Mystery Shopper noted, its relative familiarity means clients expect to be offered a choice of packages without the agent having to do extensive research.
The glorious Dalmatian coast is the biggest draw for tourists, but there’s more than just sun, sea and sand on offer.
The jewel in the crown is definitely Dubrovnik, which is filled with stunning architecture, historic churches and beautiful fountains – hence its status as a world heritage site – which are best viewed from atop the city walls. It is well-served from various regional airports in the UK, including London, East Midlands, Liverpool, Exeter, Belfast and Edinburgh.
There are hotels and guesthouses to suit every budget and – as Mystery Shopper found – it pays to offer a choice as clients could be tempted to upgrade their accommodation given the chance.
The historic port of Split has the Diocletian palace – a fort built for the Roman emperor – at its heart, and plenty of examples of Roman temples and squares dotted around waiting to be explored. Similarly, the up-and-coming destination of Zadar boasts one of the best-preserved Roman forums in the world, plus a host of historic churches.
Although the mainland has its charms, island hopping using the regular ferry service is growing more popular as travellers seek hidden gems. Each has its own appeal, from cycling through the greenery of Korcula – said to be the birthplace of Marco Polo – to fishing on Lastovo or hiking through the pine forests of Molat.
For travellers with a bit more time, suggest spending a few days exploring the rest of Croatia. The capital, Zagreb, has a medieval ‘old town’ reminiscent of Prague and Budapest, full of cobbled streets and beautiful parks and lakes.
The little-known vineyards of the Samobor Hills, just west of the capital, are a popular weekend retreat for locals, while Plitvice Lakes National Park near the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina is a stunningly beautiful escape.
Balkan Holidays, seven nights at the four-star Hotel Marko Polo on Korcula, from £1,077 in total based on two people sharing a standard room bed and breakfast, including flights from Gatwick and transfers in June.
Prestige Holidays’ Essentially Prestige range, seven nights in the five-star Dubrovnik Palace Hotel on the Lapad peninsula, from £876 per person including bed and breakfast accommodation in a sea view room with balcony, return flights from Gatwick in June and transfers.