As businesses large and small across the UK prepare to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, one London-based travel company is feeling particularly proud of its links to this summer’s big royal event.
Innovative specialist tour operator Voyages Jules Verne was founded in 1978 by Phillip Morrell, on board whose luxury cruiser – Spirit of Chartwell – Their Royal Highnesses The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh will lead the Diamond Jubilee flotilla on 3 June. Formerly a Barnado’s Boy whose rags-to-riches story includes an impressive rise through the ranks at Thomson Holidays during the 1970s, it was Morrell’s vision of taking British travellers to China that led him to form Voyages Jules Verne in 1978 (acquired by Kuoni in 1998).
His idea was simple – to operate a train from London to Peking (now Beijing) and onwards to Hong Kong, thus opening up the travel market to China at a time when the so-called ‘bamboo curtain’ was still in place. And so it was that, thanks to combination of hard work, local contacts and sheer tenacity, the first group of intrepid travellers embarked from Victoria Station on 27 February 1979. To the musical accompaniment of a Highland pipe band, Voyages Jules Verne clients and their escorts set out on a 7,000-mile rail expedition that was to take an eye-watering 42 days to complete.
Firmly setting the standard for what was to come, this was the first in a long line of exciting itineraries for Voyages Jules Verne (VJV), now an established favourite with UK travellers which continues to innovate, 33 years later. And, whilst most clients may no longer wish – nor have the time – to emulate the 1979 trip in its entirety, VJV’s The Central Kingdom Express tour retains the essence of the original. This 15-night journey recaptures the cachet of travelling by train through the heart of Russia and across the expanse of Siberia into Mongolia, with only one change of trains - at the Mongolia-China border - to complete the journey to Beijing.
Says David Pattison, Head of Product & Marketing at Voyages Jules Verne: “We are delighted that our founder will be playing such a pivotal role in this summer’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations and congratulate Philip Morrell on his achievement. Philip is a remarkable man who bequeathed us a wonderful legacy when he left Voyages Jules Verne in 1999, and we have continued his innovative and pioneering spirit ever since, whilst taking the company into the 21st century.”