Location: Birmingham
Wanted: Two friends, in their 30s, want a two-week holiday exploring Thailand. They would like to experience city life as well as relaxing on a beach, and to have the opportunity to go sightseeing and visit places around the resort or hotel. They also want advice about flights, departure times and airlines, as well as general travel advice about long-haul holidays. They know a bit about Thailand from friends and TV, but they have never visited before.
Budget: £5,000

Virgin Holidays
Debenhams, Bullring Shopping Centre
89%

Impression: The agency is a concession inside Debenhams, with a clean, clear look and employees in red and white uniforms.

Service: I was acknowledged immediately and invited to talk about options. We looked at where the hotels were located, what we could do and distances to main attractions. We chose a vibrant hotel for Bangkok and a more relaxing one for Phuket. The conversation was friendly and the agent was determined to find the best hotels and packages. Her infectious enthusiasm made me feel like packing my bags and going there and then. She suggested making the booking on the spot, saying prices can fluctuate. The agent gave me their email address and phone number, and contacted me the following day.

Quote: I was quoted for a Virgin Holidays package for June, flying Birmingham with Emirates via Dubai. There was a three-night stay at Aloft Bangkok followed by seven nights at Centara Grand Beach, Phuket, for a total of £3,732. The agent said this would enable us to explore the city and beaches, with optional tours of temples and nearby islands that could be booked by the agent or holiday reps in resort.

Overall: The agent was focused, keen and knowledgeable, and generated although there was only one quote, it fitted the shopper’s criteria.

Kuoni
John Lewis concession, 2 Station Street
88%

Impression: The beautifully decorated shop had a spa-like zen feel and relaxing atmosphere. Employees were smartly dressed.

Service: I was welcomed immediately and offered a seat to discuss my requirements. The friendly agent quickly built a rapport and offered good choices. We looked at hotel locations on a map, and discussed activities and sightseeing. I had the agent’s undivided attention while they came up with ideal solutions, with excellent customer service and great product knowledge.

Quote: I was offered a 10-night holiday with Kuoni in June, flying from Heathrow to Bangkok with Thai Airways. We would stay at Avani Riverside Bangkok Hotel for two nights then take a short flight to Krabi to stay at the Centara Anda Dhevi Resort & Spa for eight nights. The total cost was £3,018. The agent said we would be able to explore the city and coast, with plenty of excursions and sightseeing options, such as the Golden Buddha temple in Bangkok and a Phi Phi island tour. I could book those tours through the agent or with holiday reps at the hotel.

Overall: The agent was very enthusiastic and offered great suggestions and recommendations. The hotels were premium five-star properties in good locations, with all facilities required.

Tui Holiday Store
10 New Street
66%

Impression: The shop appeared to be clean but upon closer inspection there was plastic on the floor and it needed a good vacuum. Staff were neat in their uniforms and displays were tidy.

Service: I was acknowledged immediately and discussed my requirements – but the agent was not overly enthusiastic and did not build any rapport. The agent asked for the booking, explaining that prices keep changing as well as hotel and flight availability. The agent had some destination knowledge but kept reading from websites rather than developing a flowing conversation. They seemed more worried that they could be called for a review with the manager than focusing on a prospective client.

Quotes: Both holidays were with Tui in June. The first was a 10-night holiday departing from Birmingham with Emirates, flying via Dubai. It had a three-night stay at Century Park Hotel, Bangkok, followed by seven nights at Mandarava Resort and Spa, Phuket, for a total of £3,219. The second was a 14-night holiday flying from Gatwick with Cathay Pacific, and staying at Holiday Inn Resort Krabi ao Nang and Avista Hideaway Resort and Spa, Phuket, for £3,418.

Overall: The customer service was not great, as the agent kept mentioning the possibility of their review. However, the hotel options were interesting and suitable.


Winning agent

Beth Gray, personal holidays advisor

“I’ve never been to Thailand but I have done a lot of research as it looks beautiful, and have been on destination training days. We get a lot of inquiries about Thailand, as it offers so much – culture in Bangkok as well as beaches and islands. We get good prices too, which offer good value.”


Verdict

Virgin Holidays and Kuoni both demonstrated excellent customer service and product knowledge. The Virgin Holidays agent edged it because of the hotel options but the shopper would have been happy to book either. Tui suggested suitable options, and was the only agent to offer more than one quote, but the experience was not as good. There was room in the budget for all agents to offer longer holidays, escorted tour options or upgrades.


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