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EDITIONS
 Working Lunch Tuesday, 7 January, 2003, 15:21 GMT
Thumbs-up for small holiday firms
Woman browsing brochures
Big doesn't always mean better...
You're more likely to have fond holiday memories if you booked with a small travel company.

A survey by the Consumers' Association found holidaymakers weren't happy with the big tour companies.

About 30,000 people were asked to rate operators for value for money and quality of service.

The findings will be a blow for the industry's big names, as January is traditionally the time people start booking for the summer.

More than 20 million Britons take package holidays each year, and three-quarters will book with Thomson, First Choice, Thomas Cook (JMC) or Airtours (My Travel).

Laskarina was voted top of the satisfaction league alongside other
independent firms VFB, Great Rail Journeys, Swan Hellenic, Tapestry, Ramblers Holidays and Titan Travel.

As many as 85% of Laskarina customers said they'd definitely recommend it to a friend - compared to only 20% of JMC customers.

The Consumers' Association is encouraging people to book with smaller companies. It has set up a website to help - www.switchwithwhich.co.uk.

But it warns that operators which might seem independent can often be subsidiaries of the big firms, so it pays to check - the website can give information on this.

'Unrepresentative'

However, the survey received short shrift from the major companies.

"We take four million customers on holiday every year - it's a shame that not many of them subscribe to Holiday Which?" said Airtours.

Holiday gazetteers
Ask for the gazetteer
And Keith Betton of Abta, which represents travel agents and tour operators, said: "It's a bit like saying don't buy a Ford, buy a Ferrari, you will probably find it better.

"We think it is an unrepresentative survey because it's only a survey of Which? readers and, generally speaking, they are middle class, high income earning people and therefore not necessarily going to enjoy a holiday from one of the large companies as much as from a specialist company."

Certainly you could argue that you get what you pay for when it comes to holidays, and those opting for a niche operator are generally prepared to spend more money.

Greek island

Working Lunch asked four companies - two from the top of the survey and two from the bottom - to quote for a holiday on a Greek island for four people in the first week of August, staying at a four star hotel.

These were the results:

  • Laskarina - 3,040
  • Tapestry - 2,800
  • JMC - 2,168
  • First Choice - 2,034

    What you get when you arrive is another matter, but on price alone, booking with independent operators can cost up to 50% more.

    However, if you want to check in detail what your resort or hotel are like, there's a book used by the industry called a gazetteer.

    Your travel agent should have one - ask to see it before you commit yourself.

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