Renaissance Tours is Australia’s leading operator of special interest and cultural tours and cruises in the fields of opera, music, ballet, art, architecture and gardens. The company prides itself on offering Australia’s finest collection of unique, meticulously designed and operated expert-led cultural experiences for the discerning traveller.
The company was founded in 1996 by Hugh Hallard with a tour to the Chicago Lyric Opera’s production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle for the Patrons and Friends of Opera Australia. Since then, a long-term association has developed between Opera Australia and Renaissance Tours, with well over 120 opera tours arranged to date.
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 – all in the company of music experts.
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, architecture and cultural 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 short break tours, as well as a number of exclusive river and sea cruises.
Hugh Hallard – Founder and Managing Director
Hugh Hallard has enjoyed a long and varied career in arts administration, hotel management and as a tour operator.
After graduating from the Australian Graduate School of Management (MBA) in 1982, Hugh spent three years in marketing roles with The Australian Opera (now Opera Australia) before another ten years in international hotel sales and marketing in Sydney, Seoul, Moscow and St Petersburg.
After returning to Australia in 1994, Hugh founded Russia and Beyond, a tour operator specialising in travel to Eastern Europe, Russia and the former Soviet Union.
After selling his stake in that business in 1996, he founded Renaissance Tours, which is dedicated to high-quality, expert-led cultural tours around the world.
Evan Petrelis – Director and General Manager
Evan joined Renaissance Tours in May 2016 following a long-standing interest in special interest and cultural travel. In October 2016 he acquired an equity stake in the business and is currently General Manager.
Prior to joining Renaissance Tours, he had a successful 20-year career in communications and public relations consulting, including roles in organisations including Airbus, McKinsey & Company and PricewaterhouseCoopers, and with agencies including Sefiani Communications Group and BWD.
Born and raised in South Africa, he has a Masters degree in translation and interpreting. Apart from his mother tongue, English, he speaks German, French, Portuguese, Greek and Afrikaans.
Catherine Griffiths – Product Manager
Hailing from Melbourne, Catherine plans and creates new tour concepts to different countries, while negotiating with suppliers, to create tours of uniqueness and exclusivity. She enjoys bushwalking and has also initiated ongoing support for a community village in Uganda.
David Townsend – Tours Development Consultant
David graduated from the University of Sydney in law and languages before working as a lawyer, and then moving to the UK to study at the University of Oxford. While in Oxford, he was president of his college’s student government for two years and was then elected as the president of the Student Union for the whole university. He has travelled extensively and is currently studying Hindi.
Filomena Maio – Travel Team Manager
Filomena manages our Travel Team and Customer Service ensuring clients request are handled efficiently and accurately. Filomena enjoys cruising holidays, loves exploring new cultures and is a self-confessed gym-junkie.
James Cao – Operations Tours Manager
Born in Inner Mongolia, James works in our Operations Department, creating and operating special interest tours to mainland China and beyond. He spent his childhood travelling, with his doctor mother, to remote areas of the Mongolian countryside, developing a love for nature and animals, having no playmates around. He has a BA in Hospitality and an MBA in Tourism Management and is able to communicate in many local Chinese dialects. He was trained as a dancer and swimmer from a young age, and is knowledgeable in Chinese ballet, Beijing Opera and Chinese classical literature.
Carles Gil Pujals – Operations Team
A bilingual Spanish and Catalan native speaker from Barcelona, Carles worked as a holiday representative in Mallorca and Jamaica, offering sightseeing advice, organising excursions and ensuring holidays ran smoothly. He also liaised with accommodation owners, agents, restaurants and coach companies. Before moving to Australia he returned to his homeland to work as an Incoming Operations Agent. He is passionate about life, enjoying all types of music as well as Caribbean rhythms, and loves living next to the sea.
Bryan Griffin – Operations Team
Bryan, from Papua New Guinea, moved to Australia in the late 70s to complete his education. He is as passionate about travel as he is about entertainment – in the past combining performing on cruises as a Cabaret dancer with travelling to exotic destinations. Bryan is well-versed in the South Pacific region, having worked at Hoot Holidays (formerly Specialist Holidays) for over thirteen years. He enjoys art, cooking, sports, experiencing different cultures and having a good laugh.
Kirsty Archer – Operations Team
Kirsty has worked in the tourism and events industries all her professional life, except for a period of two years when she taught English Conversation to high school students in Japan. The wonderful experience of living in Japan fostered an enduring love of all things Japanese. While travelling and experiencing new cultures is her greatest passion, Kirsten is an enthusiastic participant in all of the arts and is a keen gardener.
Sheridan Packer – Graphic Designer
With over 20 years’ experience in publishing and graphic design, Sheridan loves Flamenco dancing, soccer and archaeology – her interests in the Byzantine Empire piqued after a recent trip to Turkey. She has snorkelled with sting rays in the Great Barrier Reef, surfed in Biarritz and flown over Cappadocia in a hot air balloon. Inspired by street fashion in New York, Paris and Milan, she enjoys artisan coffee and is happiest with bare feet and salty hair.
Daniel Gao – Company Accountant
Born in China, Daniel arrived in Australia at age 16, where he studied and graduated from UNSW. He started with Renaissance Tours as an intern, and was later offered a permanent position with us – his very first job. He loves to travel, and his favourite sport is Soccer.