Think Locally, Travel Globally

By Rachael Warecki Photos courtesy LivTours

Nearly 20 years removed from their days in Keck Theater, LivTours’ Colleen Robertson ’05 and Angelo Carotenuto ’06 reunite on the international stage

In spring 2021, Colleen Robertson ’05 had recently left her travel marketing job in Seattle when she received a casual job offer from Angelo Carotenuto ’06: How would she like to move to Europe to join his Italy-based tourism company, LivTours? At first, Robertson declined. Between navigating the pandemic and expecting her second child, she already had enough on her plate without an international relocation. But when she was laid off last year, the timing felt right.

“My husband and I decided we didn’t want to clock in and clock out for the next 30 years,” she says. “We wanted to do something different. We had an opportunity to really change our lives.”

Last June, Robertson began working as LivTours’ head of marketing; three months later, she and her family relocated from Seattle to Rome. Robertson now oversees all the company’s marketing channels, including its website and social media platforms, and manages its public relations and paid search marketing efforts. It’s a role that didn’t previously exist at LivTours—and Carotenuto, the company’s founder and co-owner, feels fortunate to have hired a skilled employee who’s also a former classmate.

“Once she got here, we just aligned,” he says. “We’ve found that light, humorous chemistry that made us really good friends when we were in college. I treasure it very much.”

Robertson and Carotenuto initially met as theater majors at Oxy, attending classes during the day, performing in the evenings, rehearsing late at night, and carving out time to participate in passion projects such as improv, Glee Club, and sketch comedy shows. It was a discipline, Robertson says, that prepared her for both the nonstop effort and cooperation inherent in her current role.

“Theater prepared me to work collaboratively with people who think differently than I do: with introverts and extroverts, from people who are very methodical and detail-oriented to people who are more spontaneous,” Robertson says. “Working with ‘theater people’ gave me exposure to all these different ways of communicating and collaborating. And we had to produce something at the end of the day, even if it wasn’t a success. We had to stand it up in front of people.”

Robertson has drawn on far more than her theater degree throughout her marketing career. During her first year at Oxy, a junior dormmate in Stewart-Cleland Hall told her, “It doesn’t matter what you major in; find the best professors and take their classes,” and over the next four years, Robertson applied that advice in true interdisciplinary fashion. She minored in cognitive science, took her first-year seminar class with Roger Boesche, Arthur G. Coons Distinguished Professor in the History of Ideas (“one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever met”), and worked for the Biology Department’s Vantuna Research Group as a certified scuba diver, conducting shallow-water dives to study fish off the coast of Redondo Beach. The more STEM-focused aspects of her Oxy experience taught her to interpret and assess data, an area of expertise that’s proven beneficial as she’s scaled up LivTours’ digital marketing campaigns.

“It was a whole different exposure to a whole different group of people, with a much more analytical approach,” Robertson says. “To be a successful digital marketer, you have to be data-driven and think critically about your analysis, examining everything from drop-off rates to campaign performances to revenue generated by specific channels. I didn’t practice that skill much outside of my oceanography and cognitive science work, but it’s something I use every day in my job.”

While Robertson dove into the liberal arts experience, Carotenuto spent his Oxy summers launching his tourism career. Between his sophomore and junior years, he returned home to Italy to help his parents, professional musicians who ran an orchestra and opera nonprofit, stage a production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, featuring opera singers who had recently graduated from master’s programs in the United States. “That was my very first experience with being a tour guide,” he says. “I took the cast out and showed them Rome.”

LivTours co-founders Kristin and Angelo Carotenuto ’05
LivTours co-founders Kristin and Angelo Carotenuto ’06 and their family.

After a semester abroad in London and a spring production of Candide at Occidental, Carotenuto returned to Italy for a summer of guiding tours, which turned into a full-time job after graduation. Over the next six years of working for a large tourism company, he realized that a certain segment of travelers had begun to spend a significantly larger portion of their vacation funds on experiences rather than airfare or accommodations—and that this segment was not being adequately served by the tourism industry. Carotenuto calls these travelers the “dreamers”: affluent, highly educated professionals who prepared for their vacations by studying all the niches and angles of a place before visiting, with the goal of experiencing it to the hilt. In response, Carotenuto and his wife, Kristin, founded LivItaly, a sustainable tourism company that provided personalized private and small group tours.

“Literally every aspect of Italian culture became a service,” he says. When the couple decided to expand outside of Italy, they rebranded the company as LivTours, which now offers more than 350 tours in 22 cities across Western Europe. In addition to focusing on small groups, which reduces the environmental and economic impacts common to large-scale tourism, LivTours hires local employees, designs experiences around local businesses, reduces waste, and gives back to heritage sites.

Like Robertson, Carotenuto considers his Oxy education to be “essential” to his chosen profession. “Oxy was superior at teaching people how to speak, how to cross-reference to a general education—tour guides have to touch on a lot of topics—and how to connect on an emotional level,” he says. “We work with 500 tour guides across Europe, and when I give them workshops, I don’t just talk about how to stand and speak in public, I talk about how to induce emotions with storytelling. It’s invaluable.”

Colleen Robertson '05 and Angelo Carotenuto '05 of LivTours
These are tourism professionals—don't try this at home.

LivTours recently added another Oxy alum to the team: Chloe Hetzel ’23, a psychology major from Los Altos Hills, who joined the company in February as a marketing intern. Since she hadn’t studied abroad during college, she met with the Institute for the International Education of Students (IES Abroad) to discuss possible post-graduation internships outside of the United States. She was drawn to the chance to work in Rome, explore a career in marketing, and learn from a fellow Oxy graduate.

“Interning abroad is going to be a phenomenal learning experience,” she says of the three-month, full-time opportunity. “I’m eager to get as much out of this experience as I can, in both a personal and professional sense.”

Robertson is confident that Hetzel will maximize her time at LivTours. “People from Occidental capitalize on opportunity,” she says. “They dig in, they want to learn more, they want to try more. No one does anything halfway. And because the Socratic method is so embedded in an Oxy education, our alums proactively and readily ask questions. People get steeped in that value at Occidental. That’s what you’re going to get when you work with an Oxy alum—someone who’s hungry for knowledge.”

For Carotenuto, embedding that inquisitiveness and thirst for lifelong learning into LivTours’ ethos is the next big step for his company. Having successfully emerged from the pandemic, “The new challenge is setting up our values so that our employees can really live them,” he says. “The intimacy of the Occidental community and the ability to provide something of higher meaning—they live on in my business model.”