Location: Peterlee, County Durham
Shopping for: A week in Tuscany for a couple, with car hire and cultural events
17 Yoden Way, Peterlee
Although acknowledged by the agent behind the foreign exchange desk, I had to wait five minutes for a consultant to become free. When this agent began to assist me, I was shocked to discover she didn’t actually know where Tuscany was.
The consultant noted answers to questions on a form and asked a colleague to help, but she was unable to assist. Fifteen minutes passed and the agent still didn’t know which airports were in Tuscany, appearing to think it was a city.
Eventually the agent rang Cresta Holidays for advice, which suggested a holiday in San Gimignano. They said there were no transfers from the airport – so I would need car hire – and quoted me a hefty £1,051 for two adults staying at Relais Santa Chiara.
31 Seaside Lane, Peterlee
The consultant at this agency was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable. She detailed driving in Italy, gave descriptions of the towns and was able to advise on the best time to visit.
Although the agent scored highly on giving satisfactory options, she didn’t seem to want to deal with specifics, such as giving me an accurate price for a departure date. With no particular product in mind, she could not have closed the sale.
My contact details weren’t taken and I didn’t think the window of the shop was attractive – it had no colourful posters.
I had to stand during the consultation while she sat in the customer chair, which I found awkward and uncomfortable.
2 The Chare, Peterlee
The consultant at the well-presented agency initially sounded quite abrupt, but became friendlier as the consultation went on. She also thought Tuscany was a city.
A colleague suggested she ring Cresta Holidays for more information. The second colleague gave me two websites to find out more about cultural events, one being TripAdvisor. She suggested a twin-centre holiday so I could explore the region more.
The first agent came back with a quote for £1,273 at the NH Excelsior Sienna near San Gimignano. She asked if she could ring me two days later to follow up the enquiry. I was given the Cresta brochure and a business card.
13 The Chare, Peterlee
I had to wait more than five minutes here before I was offered help.
The agent serving me asked lots of questions, saying she had been to Italy herself. She knew the correct flight information and she brought up TripAdvisor on her screen, reading out reports of things to do.
Car hire was discussed, but after I left the shop I realised she had not quoted me a price for this.
The consultant recommended Villa Dini from the Thomson Destinations Italy and Croatia brochure, costing £1,074 for two adults. Her enthusiasm rubbed off on me and made me feel excited about the holiday.
Nothing was too much trouble. My only real gripe was that I had felt ignored when browsing the brochures when I first arrived, but the agent more than compensated for the slow start with her energy.
- For an inside look at this and previous Mystery Shopper features, see Emily Ashwell's Community Editor Blog
Tip 1: Tuscany is a region of Italy. Airports serving the region are Florence Amerigo Vespucci Airport (FLR) and Pisa International Galileo Galilei Airport (PSA).
Tip 2: The most famous city in Tuscany is Florence – the birthplace of Renaissance art. Suggest smaller towns such as Pisa – with its leaning tower, Sienna, Lucca and San Gimignano to those wanting to avoid the crowds of Florence.
Tip 3: Brits also enjoy staying in the beautiful Tuscan countryside, with hills covered with olive groves and vineyards. Staying in a villa is a good option here.
Tip 4: If you sell car hire, warn clients that some cities with historical centres require drivers to have special entry permits. A pass can be bought easily from most car hire companies.
Tip 5: To get more product knowledge about Italy visit www.gazetteers.com. The site also contains photos of resorts and hotel reviews from fellow travel agents..
Mystery Shopper prizes
Each month’s highest scoring travel agent gets the chance to drive a Porsche Boxster S courtesy of Elite Island Resorts. More at www.travelweekly.co.uk/elite
Mystery Shopper scoring system
- 60% Advice and product knowledge
- 12% Customer service
- 8% External/internal appearance
- 7% Welcome
- 7% Farewell
- 6% Staff presentation
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