Exploring culture with Limelight Arts Travel

State Opera in Vienna, Austria
State Opera in Vienna, Austria

What makes a small-group and slow-tour with Limelight Arts Travel different? We speak with its founder to find out.

Australian bespoke touring company Limelight Arts Travel is dedicated to taking guests interested in fine music and art to some of the best hidden places, and performances, in the world.

Here, we speak with Director Dr Kathleen Olive, who has worked as a cultural tour leader for more than 15 years with deep expertise in Italy, France, Spain and Japan. Kathleen holds a B.A (Hons I) and a PhD in Italian Studies from the University of Sydney; and has more than a decade’s experience of university lecturing in Italian language and literature, and European history.

Kathleen Olive, Director, Limelight Arts Travel
Kathleen Olive, Director, Limelight Arts Travel

LT: Can you tell us about how you came to love travel and your professional experience in this sector?

I came to travel through my love of Italian art, history and culture. While I was teaching at the University of Sydney, I led an undergraduate study tour to Tuscany and adored the immediacy of sharing history, art and culture in the very place of its origin. It’s addictive! In 2008 I began to lead tours as a full-time job, with one of Australia’s leading cultural tour operators.

I began to design tour itineraries too, gaining an invaluable 360-degree insight into the experience. I love that my position as Director of Limelight Arts Travel allows me to combine all these aspects, while also helping to shape the direction of our tour program.

LT: What are the unique aspects of a small group tour with Limelight Arts Travel?

We really pride ourselves on the way our tours are structured. Wherever possible, we design long-stay tours. This minimises time and energy lost in coach trips, in packing and unpacking – but it also lets our guests relax into a place, develop a routine, live more like a local. We also think that off-season travel is more and more important. With the high season growing ever longer, and crowds in key tourist hotspots bigger and bigger, we think there’s a lot to be gained by travelling to key locations out of season.

Winter in southern Italy tends to be crisp but dry, with lovely blue skies, for example, so this is a great time for cultural travellers who aren’t looking for a beach holiday. To wander around the Greek temples of Sicily, at Segesta or Selinunte, and have them almost entirely to yourself is something that you don’t forget in a hurry. And off-season travel is more than just memorable, it also tends to be more cost-effective.

Greek tempoles of Sicily. Image by Simon Maage
Greek tempoles of Sicily. Image by Simon Maage

LT: Can you share some of the upcoming new Performance Art tours your company will be hosting in 2023?

We’re really excited to be offering a distinctive program of performing arts tours in 2023. Our tour to Leipzig’s Mahler Festival in May 2023 is proving very popular, as it extends beyond the Festival itself in Leipzig, looking at Mahler’s time as a young man, conductor and composer in his native Bohemia and in Vienna.

We’re also particularly proud of our tour to the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence in July 2023. This is a cutting-edge festival of lyric music, which usually sees three or four operas staged in creative and historic settings in and around Aix-en-Provence. Beyond the quality of the performances, there’s also the beauty of touring in Provence, with its inspiring landscapes and historic châteaux, monasteries and wineries. Importantly, we’ve selected a hotel with a swimming pool, inside the walls of Aix, so our guests are close to all the venues but can also cool off with a dip in the pool.

Leipzig New Town Hall Mahler Festival
Leipzig New Town Hall Mahler Festival

LT: Can you talk us through the design process when starting to plan and curate a new tour?

The design process of a tour is a fun and creative time. We pool our resources and workshop our ideas with our expert tour leaders, thinking about how to visit evergreen destinations in new ways, and how to showcase lesser-known places that are also brimming with art, history and culture. Once we’ve refined an itinerary and made sure that all of its components can practically work as well as offer a new perspective, we reach out to our network of local operators, suppliers, cultural institutions and guides.

We work closely with locals in all destinations, because we believe in travel’s transformative potential to bring a livelihood to almost one in ten people globally, and because we know that local experience and expertise ensures the quality of our offering.

Tuscany, Italy
Siena, winter in Tuscany tour

"We work closely with locals in all destinations, because we believe in travel's transformative potential to bring a livelihood to almost one in ten people globally"


LT: Where do most of your guests come from and what’s the average age group? What common interests or traits do they tend to share?

Our guests come predominantly from capital cities, particularly Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, but we’ve noticed a recent trend of people joining our tours from regional centres in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania in particular. With very few exceptions our travellers are over 50, deeply interested in the world and already well travelled.

They are truly likeminded, sharing a strong interest in art, history, the performing arts and culture, so they form connections that last well beyond the end of the tour.

LT: Who are the tour guides you work with that lead guests?

Each of our groups is led by a specialist tour leader, a subject area expert with significant expertise in their field. They’re also passionate communicators, so they don’t just stand in front of an amazing artwork or site and string together a long list of facts. Instead, they love to tell stories and put what our guests see into context. We’re about to launch our lecture and events program, which gives our tour leaders another forum in which to share their expertise, and also gives our guests the opportunity to meet a tour leader before they travel together. We also believe in sharing local histories and perspectives, so we work closely with local guides in every place we visit, from Venetian-born specialists who share their experiences of living in one of the world’s most visited cities, to Indigenous guides who explain what it means to be on Country.

La Fenice Opera House Venice, Music in Venice tour
La Fenice Opera House Venice, Music in Venice tour

LT: What steps does Limelight Arts Travel take to reduce the footprint of its tours and promote responsible travel?

Travel is an intensive activity, and it would be irresponsible not to seriously consider the impact of a trip before we step onto the plane. Limelight Arts Travel is committed to making our Australian operations carbon neutral by 2025, and we have begun the complex process of examining our supply chain in order to target Scope 3 emissions. While we believe that, when undertaken thoughtfully, travel has the power to support communities in positive ways, we know it is important to be proactive in our social responsibility.

For this reason, we make a donation to The Smith Family’s Learning for Life program on behalf of every person who joins one of our tours. This wonderful program supports disadvantaged children to complete their studies, a project that aligns with our belief in the potential of knowledge to enrich and transform.

"Limelight Arts Travel is committed to making our Australian operations carbon neutral by 2025, and we have begun the complex process of examining our supply chain in order to target Scope 3 emissions"


LT: How do you define ‘modern luxury’ when it comes to travel experiences? What do you find your guests are seeking from their travel experiences and how do you deliver it to them?

Luxury is so much more than the star rating of your hotel – it’s also the amount of time you spend in a place, the perspective and expertise you gain from a tour leader or local guide, and the opportunity to enjoy private or exclusive experiences, such as meeting the director of an opera or visiting an artist in their studio. All too often, luxury tours are little more than a sequence of sites. We’re striving to make each tour a symphony of experiences.

"We're striving to make each tour a symphony of experiences."


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