Travel Weekly’s Mystery Shopper calls on travel agents across the UK each week to check presentation, attitude and service.

Travel Weekly’s Mystery Shopper in association with Gazetteers.com.     

THE TARGET ? WANTED ?
Online travel agencies A ski holiday at Easter for a family with two children, aged 10 and 14

RULES
Each week, Mystery Shopper calls on agents across the UK. Shops are judged on six criteria:

Internal/external appearance (25%)
Sales technique (25%)
Availability checked (10%)
Product knowledge (20%)
Details explained (10%)
Request matched (10%)

Please note, no additional information will be given about Mystery Shopper’s visits.

Mystery Shopper gave ebookers a disappointing 35% - 9 Feb 2007 Ebookers.com

This site was quick and easy to use to book a flight or a hotel, but not a ski package.

There were sections for flights, hotels, car hire and insurance, but nothing on skiing – you would have to book the flight and hotel separately and would need knowledge of the resort.

I struggled to get information as it said the site was experiencing high levels of use and was not able to process my request. I visited later but got the same message, so I couldn’t even check hotel availability.

Overall, it was disappointing.

Score:35%

Mystery Shopper gave Opodo.com a score of 62% - 8 Feb 2007Opodo.co.uk

The site was clear and the tabs on the top of the homepage made it easy to get to the ski section.

After entering the dates of travel and number of passengers, the site gave me accommodation in several European resorts. There were no resort overviews, so you would have to research or know about the resorts already. The accommodation section was good, with details on facilities and location.

After selecting accommodation the site was easy to continue to booking. Transfers from the airport were included in the price of the flights so car hire was not needed. Insurance was offered but you needed to click on the right box.

Equipment hire and lift passes are also available.

Score:62%

Mystery Shopper gave expedia.com a score of 76% - 9 Feb 2007Expedia.co.uk

I found the Expedia site confusing at first. I missed the ski section and went straight to Easter breaks. Finding nothing there, I went back to the homepage and found the ski product, which was much better.

The information provided was basic but a starting point to narrow down the list of possible resorts.  I chose a resort recommended for families; there were plenty of activities available such as ice skating, bowling and swimming, which would still be available if the snow wasn’t great.

After entering some basic information, the flights were automatically selected and I was given a choice of hotel and apartments to look at.

The accommodation section was clear and detailed, offering all the information you would need to make an informed choice.

There were lots of extras on offer including equipment hire, lift passes, insurance and car rental, but no airport transfers.

You could also book activities such as a bobsleigh run and night skiing.

Overall, the site was easy to use, although you need some prior knowledge before you start as the resort information was limited.

Score:76%

Mystery ShopperLastminute.com

Lastminute.com was clear and easy to use. The snow and ski section was obvious on the homepage and was easy to navigate. There weren’t too many adverts either, so I could concentrate on booking without being distracted.

The resort guide in the snow and ski section was fantastic. Resort overviews provided snow reports, information on ski schools, lift and piste guides, resort maps, and directions on getting around. There were links to local sites and plenty of non-ski activities, which was reassuring as you don’t always get snow in April.

Everything was clearly displayed and you could see the basic information at a glance or spend more time reading about resorts in detail. This section was excellent and an asset to the site, it was like having an online brochure.

Flights were automatically selected based on dates, passenger numbers and departure airport.

The only downside was the lack of extras on offer other than insurance. There was no option to book ski passes or equipment hire, although there were links and contact details that would allow you to do this as a separate booking

Score:80%

TOP FIVE TIPS

Tip 1:Remember the weather – it’s what skiers live by. The snow in Europe has been disastrous this season – it arrived very late, which was great news for the US and Canada. North America has had bucketloads of the white stuff – and a few more Brits because of it. Look out for weather reports and be sure to know where the snow is.

Tip 2:Not everyone skis – check out the alternative activities in resort. Look for swimming pools, ice rinks, pre-bookable tours such as husky dog sledding and sleigh rides.

Tip 3:Kit them out – most skiers hire their equipment in resort. Check your operator offers this as a pre-bookable extra – it could mean more commission for you.

Tip 4:Match the catch – ski resorts differ wildly – some are pretty and traditional, some modern and functional. Find out what your client wants, and search out as much information on the resort as possible.

Tip 5:Be accommodating – ski resorts offer a huge choice of places to stay – self catering chalets, catered chalets, hotels, apartments. Find out

SUMMARY

As part of our technology special issue, Mystery Shopper looked online for the best service and deals.

The sites varied in their offerings: one didn’t even have a ski section and on the others you had to traipse through pages and sections to pull your holiday together.

But the overriding discovery was that the majority do not have resort overviews, something that needs addressing.

The winner excelled with overviews, links to relevant sites and local information. However, pre-booking equipment had to be done separately.

 

Gazetteers.comAbout Gazetteers.com.

Gazetteers.com, from DG& G Travel Information gives you a single website that means you need never fear being mystery shopped again! Gazetteers.com combines all our unique and unbiased data – destination/resort guides, hotel reviews, tour operator details, passport and visa – and sorts it the way you want it. With superb search functionality and additional hi-tech features such as online brochures, photos and interactive maps, you’ll find it hard to believe that travel agents ever managed without it. Gazetteers.comprovides agents with all the product knowledge you need to meet and exceed customer expectations. Log on at Gazetteers.com.

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