This week LATTE chats with Evan Petrelis, the Managing Director of Renaissance Tours.
Evan joined Renaissance Tours in mid-2016 after a successful 20-year career in communications and public relations consulting, including roles in organisations such as Airbus, McKinsey & Company and PricewaterhouseCoopers, and with communications agencies including Sefiani Communications Group and BWD Strategic.
Born and raised in South Africa, Evan has a Masters degree in translation and interpreting in European languages. Apart from his mother tongue, English, Evan also speaks German, French and Portuguese.
In October 2017, Evan acquired Renaissance Tours outright from founder Hugh Hallard.
Here we learn more about the tour operator and its collection of itineraries and cruise charters in Australia and abroad.
Evan, thanks for your time. For those LATTE readers unfamiliar with Renaissance Tours, can you tell us about the brand and what you do?
Renaissance Tours is Australia’s leading operator of special interest and cultural tours in the fields of opera, music, ballet, art, architecture and gardens. We pride ourselves on offering Australia’s finest collection of unique, meticulously-designed and -operated expert-led cultural experiences.
The company was founded in 1996 with a tour to Chicago for Wagner’s Ring Cycle for the patrons and friends of Opera Australia. In 1999, the company introduced ballet tours, designed to introduce ballet lovers to the world’s great ballet and dance companies, followed shortly afterwards by a program of music lovers’ tours, featuring performances by the great orchestras, conductors and soloists of the world.
Since 2002, Renaissance Tours has also developed, in partnership with the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales, a very successful specialised program of art, design, architecture and archaeology tours, led by academics from Australian and international universities, curators and staff of the Art Gallery of NSW, and some of the country’s leading art critics.
The company’s tour collection is made complete with a series of garden- and gourmet-themed tours, as well as a large collection of short break domestic cultural tours, and a number of exclusive river and sea cruises.
Can you tell us more about the program you offer domestically and internationally?
We create, sell and operate our own one-of-a-kind single-departure special interest and cultural group tours and cruises. All our groups are led by subject matter experts.
When a guest travels with us they benefit from meticulously researched itineraries, tour leaders among the most accomplished in their fields of expertise, exclusive access to people and places, among the best seats in the house for music performances, travelling in the company of like-minded people and, most importantly, personal care and attention – knowing that all their arrangements are taken care of by us.
In 2019 we operated around 70 tours both internationally and within Australia. The largest number of our tours fall within the category of ‘art’ tours, which we operate in partnership with the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales.
Our fastest-growing category of tours is, in fact, our domestic cultural tours in Australia. While our tour schedule for 2020 has of course been disrupted, we were meant to operate a Music and Art cruise on the Rhine River in May in celebration of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. Other tour highlights include an opera tour to Eastern Europe in September; a Christmas ballet tour to Europe in December; an autumn colours garden tour to Japan in October; a tour to Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan in September; and an Art Deco and Art Nouveau tour to Prague, Paris and Brussels in November.
Your program offers a series of ‘Short Breaks’. Are these on an FIT basis or Groups?
All our tours are group tours but sold to any individuals or even small groups of friends travelling together. All our tours are single departures (in other words, one-off or one-of-a-kind). These apply to both our domestic ‘Short Breaks’ as well as our full-length international tours and cruises.
What are the maximum number of guests on the tours and the average number?
The average group size of our tours is around 15 people (sometimes less); we rarely go over 24 people unless it is a single-city performance-based tour.
Are the special interest tours offered on a one-off or annual basis?
All our tours are one-of-a-kind and with one departure date. You really have only one crack at it. Our tours are rarely, if ever, repeated. As a result, each year we go back to the drawing board and start from scratch with a new collection of tours for the following year. In the case of a tour that was very popular and demand resulted in it being over subscribed, we may choose to run it again the following year, but we will invariably make small adjustments to it to ensure it was not a carbon copy of its original.
Are your itineraries crafted in-house, and what experience do your staff have?
We conceptualise and create all our tours in-house. The itineraries are meticulously researched by our Product team in consultation with our tour leaders, who are subject matter experts. Once our tours have been developed and put out into the market for sale, our Tour Operations team takes over the management of the tours and put them on the road. Our staff come from all backgrounds, mostly with qualifications in tourism studies and the arts. Some are former tour guides, travel consultants and event managers.
Your program features Cruising. Can you elaborate on the ships used, are these charters, are they dedicated departures or do Renaissance Tours’ guests have added extras.
We charter one or two cruises a year, which are dedicated single-departure cruises. Last year we chartered a ship in Russia called the Volga Dream, which sailed from St Petersburg to Moscow. It was a Russian Art, Music and Literature cruise, with each of the three tour leaders specialising in these subject areas.
In September last year we operated an Art, Music and Wine cruise on the Rhone River in France with Lueftner Cruises, again with three specialist tours leaders.
In November this year, we have chartered the Crystal Esprit, a luxury super motor yacht owned by Crystal Cruises, for an exclusive archaeology-focused 12-day cruise of the Near East visiting Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Cyprus. It will be led by two of Australia’s leading archaeologists and will feature exclusive on-board talks and exclusive access to archaeological sites.
What’s your most popular itinerary and why?
As all our tours are one-time single-departure tours, it’s difficult to say there is a popular itinerary. However, I can say that our Art & Culture tours to the Caucasus region are popular, so too to North Africa and the Middle East (Iran used to be very popular). In the case of our opera- and music-focused tours, Europe is, of course, the go-to destination, with Germany topping the list of countries. Japan is popular for art and gardens.
How can travel advisors get in touch to learn more about Renaissance Tours?
Oh, and I should say that we welcome agents’ bookings and we pay generous commission.
Final question, and LATTE‘s signature question, what is your favourite coffee outlet and your ‘go-to’ order?
Good question. Single Rosetta in Dalhousie Street, Haberfield in Sydney – it has a great outdoor terrace. And a Skim Latte… extra hot, please!