The Scottish town of Ayr was the destination for Mystery Shopper this week who went in search of information on farmhouse holidays in Ireland. In fact, none of the agencies could give any advice on the specific request, but the King World Travel consultant impressed with her enthusiastic and friendly approach.


Each week, Mystery Shopper will be calling on agents in different areas. Stars are awarded to agents which score for

* Agency appearance

* Product knowledge

* Staff attitude

* Brochure racking

* Sales technique

The top-scoring agency each week receives a Travel Weekly certificate of commendation.

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


King World Travel, 12 Sandgate, Ayr

**** Winner

This was a neat, attractive agency with four consultants on duty. There was also a good selection of brochures on display.

I was served by a consultant who first picked out Cresta Ireland brochure and asked us which part of Ireland we were interested in visiting. I said we were open on the specific destination, but were keen to stay at a farmhouse.

The consultant showed us the section on self-catering cottages – she could not find farmhouses – and said it would work out cheaper to buy a package which included accommodation and ferry travel, rather than try to book everything separately. She said Ireland was also a good destination for travelling around.

She could not find anything on farmhouse holidays but was enthusiastic about the range of alternatives. She spent time going through all the options with us. She also picked out the P&O and Stena brochures.

She gave me her card and said to call back if we wanted to check availability. Although her product knowledge wasn’t extensive, the consultant was friendly and enthusiastic.

* Agency appearance

* Staff attitude

* Brochure racking

* Sales technique

Going Places, 38 Sandgate, Ayr


There were two consultants on duty in this busy shop, but a third arrived after a couple of minutes. The brochure supplies were running low.

The friendly consultant seemed interested in my request and asked how we intended to travel to Ireland. I said we were looking at the options now, and she suggested that Ryanair was the cheapest for flights but said car hire was expensive. She said driving over there and taking a ferry was the best option.

She picked out the overbranded Going Places Ireland brochure and spent time going through it. She could not find farmhouse accommodation but did a good job of switch-selling to alternatives. She also gave me the Stena brochure and said to pick out some favourites and call back.

* Agency appearance

* Staff attitude

* Sales technique

Lunn Poly, 71 High Street, Ayr


There were three consultants on duty in this small agency and all were free so I was served straight away.

The brochure supplies seemed quite depleted.

The friendly consultant apologised at the shortage of brochures but said she would give me what was available on Ireland.

She picked out CIE Tours and flicked through it but could only see self-catering cottages. She also gave me Cresta’s dedicated Ireland brochure but again couldn’t find anything suitable.

She suggested I contact the Irish Tourist Board for information on farmhouse holidays.

She did not offer to get the telephone number of the tourist board, but otherwise tried to be helpful.

* Agency appearance

* Staff attitude

Thomas Cook, 5 Alloway Street, Ayr


There were four consultants on duty in this bright, attractive agency. Two were free so I was served immediately.

The brochure racks were half full. The consultant looked quite bemused at the request and certainly seemed uninterested. But she did pick out the Cresta brochure and Stena Holidays and handed them over to me without going through them.

I asked if it was best to buy a package arrangement – as distinct from booking transport and accommodation separately, – and he said “What other way would you go?” as I had made a ridiculous suggestion.

He commented that the operators seemed to offer only self-catering cottages so we may have to book the farmhouse privately.

* Agency Appearance

Top Tips for Agents

Tip 1: If you suggest the client contact the tourist office, it’s a nice touch to give a them a telephone number.

Tip 2: Okay – we weren’t looking for advice on a gypsy caravan holiday but it is nice when consultants make comments on the kind of holidays that appeal to them. It is better to be chatty and friendly than surly and monosyllabic.