Ex-Regent Holidays director and historian Neil Taylor has been awarded an MBE for services to UK/Estonia relations, having been one of the first people to sell holidays to Estonia as an independent country in 1992.
Holidays to Estonia and the other Baltic states of Latvia and Lithuania could only be sold as escorted tours combined with Russia while they were part of the Soviet Union, which collapsed in 1991.
All three became independent nations that year, and non-group tours and city breaks became possible.
Taylor joined Regent Holidays to open its Bristol office in 1975. He became a director and worked there until 2003, also becoming a board member of both Abta and Aito.
Speaking to TTG about the accolade, he said: "It’s very strange, one thinks of all of the people in the past across the country who have got it before for voluntary work and so on, but I didn’t think it was something for the travel business really.
"The recognition is fantastic element, it’s very lovely and very flattering."
Taylor was also among the first members of the trade to sell holidays to China in 1976.
"You had to tell people you had no idea what was going to happen – you couldn’t book a specific hotel, you couldn’t book a specific itinerary," he said.
"Usually when you book a holiday, you want to know all of the details – what you’d be doing on a Tuesday morning or a Friday afternoon, but that just didn’t happen in those days. You were taking a big punt, and an expensive punt because of the huge air fares.
"It was pure excitement with China – there were so many people with different reasons who wanted to go there, whose parents perhaps were missionaries in the 1930s, a sailing link, naval link with people who fought in the war, all of these people who had heard of China – and suddenly the feeling was, I can actually go there.
"They weren’t worried about the logistics, they wanted the adventure. They were happy to go."
After retiring from Regent, Taylor became a non-executive director of cultural tours specialist Martin Randall Travel, but continued to lead group tours to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for both Regent and Martin Randall.
"Estonia was very different – I was amazed how Western it was. I went in the spring of 1992 and they formerly declared independence in August 1991 but that was very sudden following the coup of the Soviet Union," he added.
"They were very aware as to what was going on with everyone – it was for adventurous people in those days so they had to charge accordingly.
"What was amazing was how on the ball they were so early, that I hadn’t expected. I thought the Soviet Union would last a lot longer than it did there."
Taylor has produced eight editions of the Bradt Guides to Estonia starting in 1997, and in 2018 he wrote Estonia: a Modern History.
He also lectures on Viking and Noble Caledonia cruises to the Baltics. Neil married an Estonian, Tiina, in 2012, and now divides his time between the UK and Tallinn.