Brief: A couple want to go to Cuba in April for about 10 nights, splitting their time between Havana and a beach resort. They don’t know which resort to choose and want advice from an agent, plus details of excursions and activities.
Verdict: Personal service and destination knowledge pushed the winner streets ahead of the competition.
This shop’s display was bright and eye-catching but it had very little information on deals. An agent got up and came over to me as I entered the shop. I was the only customer but she didn’t ask any questions, take me over to her desk or offer to look anything up on her computer.
She gave me the First Choice Tropical brochure for May 2011-April 2012, which was almost out of date by my desired travel dates, and suggested I look for myself. She didn’t seem to know much about holidays to Cuba, but said I should book as soon as possible. She didn’t seem particularly interested in doing any more than giving me a brochure and pointing me in the direction of the door.
The Co-operative Travel
15 All Saints Square
The agent was friendly but didn’t have much knowledge of Cuba. She asked a few questions, said my budget would be fine and said she’d heard the Hotel Nacional de Cuba in Havana came highly recommended. However, she didn’t know whether I could fly from Manchester, make any attempt to suggest a beach resort or ring the operator.
She gave me two Thomas Cook brochures – Tropical Shores and Caribbean & Mexico – asked me to come in and see her again and she would ring Thomas Cook for me in the meantime. I feel she definitely needed more training and knowledge of destinations, airlines and logistics of planning a long-haul holiday.
14 Effingham Street
This shop had a great window display and the agent was enthusiastic. She sat me down to look on screen at choices for holidays, and gave me a good idea of what was on offer in the Thomas Cook Tropical Shores brochure, recommending Hotel Nacional de Cuba in Havana and the Sandals Royal Hicacos in Varadero, available from £2,778 in April.
She also recommended the Footsteps of Hemingway, a 14-day tour with four days in Havana and the rest in Varadero, and told me there were good tours of Havana that could be booked through the rep in resort. However, I had to note down the prices myself on a bit of paper, and she didn’t take my details or give me any means of contacting her again.
Travel Agency Services
13 & 28 Imperial Buildings, Market Street
This small, attractive shop is full of old world charm and I really feel I received personal service at its best. The agent really cared about getting me the best holiday for my money. He showed me the First Choice Tropical brochure and recommended I fly with the operator from Manchester and stay at the Parque Central in Havana and the Iberostar in Varadero.
He quoted about £3,000, but said I should avoid the Easter holidays and that he would try to get me the very best deal he could when I had set dates. He offered to arrange car hire and said the First Choice rep could sort out excursions, recommending a city tour and a visit to the Tropicana night club. He gave me a brochure and his business card, took my details, and offered to ring me in a few days. I was really impressed with his knowledge and courtesy.
Winning agent: John Coldwell, proprietor
“I’ve had the agency for 15 years. I used to work for Pickford, but when it became Going Places I left and started up here. Business travel makes up about half of our sales, and the rest are often complicated tailor-made itineraries to long-haul destinations.”
Tips: Top 5 tips for selling Cuba
Vibrant and friendly, Cuba is one of the Caribbean’s most distinctive islands. There are direct flights to Havana, Varadero and Holguin from Gatwick and Manchester.
The capital Havana is famed for its crumbling glory, with streets lined with beautifully dilapidated colonial buildings, 1950s American cars and old ladies smoking huge cigars.
The street life and nightlife are the main draws, with a city tour and a trip to see dancers at the Tropicana night club and cabaret musts for many tourists.
Varadero is one of the island’s most popular beach resorts, two hours’ drive from Havana. The beaches are spectacular and there’s a wide range of all-inclusive hotels to choose from.
For more on Cuba, see page 48 of Travel Weekly magazine and gazetteers.com.
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