Brief: A couple want to tour Italy in June or July for up to two weeks. They definitely want to visit Rome, Florence and Venice, but it’s important the tour is relaxed and leisurely with at least a couple of nights in each place.
Verdict: The winner’s customer service and attention to detail stood out.
1C, 150 Broadway, Didcot
This agency was tidy and clutter-free with smartly dressed employees, which made an excellent first impression. An agent offered to help straightaway and was really interested in what kind of trip I wanted, asking how I met my partner and what we like to do on holiday so she could make it personal.
She put together a tailor-made tour starting in Venice on June 25 and staying three nights at the Hotel Monaco & Grand Canal, then going by train to Florence and finally Rome for three nights each, costing £4,750. She was very knowledgeable and kept the conversation flowing, giving me a Citalia brochure to look at while she was on the phone and pointing out our hotels on a map.
I would have liked some details of excursions, but I was really impressed by the hotels she recommended and felt I could trust this agent to book us a great holiday.
Winning agent: Laura Bonner, travel advisor
"I like the fact no two enquiries are the same. You can have someone who wants a week in Bognor Regis and then someone who wants a three-month cruise. It’s really varied. I like cruises and tailor-made holidays because they’re a bit more interesting to put together."
John Allan Travel
128 Broadway, Didcot
I liked this bright and airy shop although the decor was a bit dated. The agent who dealt with me became friendlier as the conversation went on, asking what I liked to do and recommending excursions to suit me.
I was given a handwritten quote for three nights each in Rome, Florence and Venice, flying out on July 3, including transfers and rail travel between cities, for £2,540 each. This was a bit over budget, but the agent brought it alive with personal recommendations of what to do while we were there, and made sure it was the right holiday for us.
18 St Martins Street, Wallingford
This colourful agency had a nice atmosphere, with maps and posters on the walls. I was acknowledged quite quickly but a bit surprised that the agent’s first question was about my budget, which seemed a bit abrupt.
The consultant gave me brochures for Kirker and Cresta, and offered me a package starting in Rome on June 29, then going to Florence and later Venice by train, for 10 days in total at £2,390 each. The holiday was presented a bit like a set menu – there didn’t seem to be much flexibility on where to stay or for how long. I would have liked a more personal touch.
Want to know how you could have scored 100%? We look at some options to make Mystery Shopper's ideal itinerary
Italy’s popularity has rebounded after a slight dip in 2010. The country’s mix of art, ancient architecture, scenery, fashion and food has enticed Brits back for beach holidays and city breaks – or a mix of both.
Mystery Shopper was keen to see Rome, Florence and Venice – a classic combination for first timers – but could equally have headed south from the capital to Naples and the Amalfi coast, or to Sicily and Sardinia.
Escorted by experts
Surprisingly, none of the agents recommended an escorted tour, even though Italy lends itself to this type of travel.
There are dozens of tours across Italy and many offer the relaxed pace Mystery Shopper was looking for. Trafalgar’s At Leisure programme includes free time and generally stays two or three nights in each place, while Collette Worldwide, Insight Vacations and Page & Moy all incorporate days at leisure into many of their itineraries.
Tell clients about the benefits of an escorted tour such as not having to find their way around or struggle with suitcases, and having an experienced guide, plus transfers to the departure airport are sometimes included.
For clients who don’t want an escorted tour, book a few nights in each place and suggest excursions along the way so they get the best of both worlds – and you top up your commission.
Attraction World offers a Gondola Serenade in Venice for £45 or a Vatican City Tour for £59 per adult, £54 per child. Alternatively, book a Roman Empire Now & Then tour with Do Something Different, £41/£33, or a Discover Pisa tour for £38/£19.
Trafalgar’s Great Italian Cities 10-day tour includes Rome, Assisi, Florence, Pisa, Bologna and Venice, with prices from £1,785 excluding flights.
Great Rail Journeys has a 13-day Grand Tour of Italy including Rome, Florence, Lucca, Venice and Turin plus an overnight stay in Paris, from £2,375 by Eurostar.
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