Times Online

Good travel agents get you to a place you’ll love, and at the right price; bad ones leave you out of pocket and out of sorts. How do you know which is which? Mark Hodson goes undercover to find the holiday-makers that deliver.

How do you arrange your holidays? Do you sit around the kitchen table with a big pile of brochures, or do you just book the same thing as last year? Is it all a bit of a chore? Imagine, then, that you were offered the services of an independent expert: somebody charming and helpful, with an impressive knowledge of the world of travel. Somebody who would do all the work for you — and not charge a bean.

This is no idle fantasy. It is, of course, the proper role of the travel agent. The problem is that many travel agents simply aren’t up to the job. Badly trained and underpaid, they often struggle to cope with the demands of an ever more know-ledgeable and price-conscious public. No wonder so many holidaymakers are willing to spend hours on the internet making the bookings themselves.

But there are plenty of bright, hard-working travel agents out there — it’s just a question of finding them. Once you have, you won’t want to let them go. What does it matter if they aren’t based near you? A good agent will send brochures, information and quotes in the post, and dispense advice by phone or e-mail.

So, which are the best travel agents in Britain? We started our search by asking for nominations, both from our readers and from the Association of Independent Tour Operators. We received the names of agents up and down the country: big and small, independents and multiples.

Then, posing as members of the public, we tested each of them on the phone, setting each three tasks, and awarded marks for their knowledge and resourcefulness, their willingness to dig out information and prices, their telephone manner and, of course, the quality and veracity of the information they gave us.

On the whole, the results were disappointing: we had hoped to name the best 20 agents in the country, but, having put them through their paces, we found ourselves able to recommend only six with confidence.

 

This is an excerpt taken from an article published in the Sunday Times on Dec 9th 2001