Secret Travelers

That fussy tourist on your next trip may be working for the resort

Gary Pokodner of Annapolis, Md., gets paid to vacation. Pokodner, an electrical engineer, stays at four-star hotels for free, eats steak dinners gratis and goes on casino sprees totally on the house. For his trouble, he makes $20,000 a year in his spare time. How does he do it? Pokodner, 44, is a veteran secret shopper, employed by cruise lines and hotel chains to travel undercover and evaluate their customer service.

This stealthy approach to quality control got its start in the late 1980s, mainly in the restaurant and retail businesses. There's even a trade group, the Mystery Shoppers Providers Association...

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