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Marriott’s Jenni Benzaquen: Appealing to High-End Travelers

The Marriott International senior vice president talks rare destinations, mindful experiences and other trends in luxury travel

by Shivani Vora

June 17, 2024

Marriott International senior vice president Jenni Benzaquen / Photo: Courtesy of Marriott

In her role as senior vice president for Marriott International’s ultraluxury portfolio, Jenni Benzaquen is on the pulse of what appeals to today’s high-end traveler. She currently oversees some of the most upscale brands in hospitality, including The Ritz-Carlton, Ritz-Carlton Reserve, St. Regis Hotels & Resorts and Bulgari Hotels & Resorts. Benzaquen’s prior job leading Marriott International’s brand portfolio of hotels in 75 countries throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa gave her a foothold in the travel industry overall. A Texas native now living in London, Benzaquen spoke about how travel tastes have evolved since the pandemic, what luxury globetrotters are seeking from their trips, and what the coming years will bring.

Samos Sabores Míos restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Mexico City / Photo: Courtesy of Marriott

How has travel changed since the pandemic?

Luxury travelers are more interested in visiting far-flung destinations and having once-in-a-lifetime experiences. These travelers have been to Paris, London, Tokyo and the Maldives. They are now looking for the next uncharted frontier. They want authentic experiences that allow them to connect with the local culture and give back. They want exclusive access. They want excursions and trips that will leave them transformed.

With this in mind, we’re seeing increasing demand for destinations that are harder to access. Rissai Valley, our newest Ritz-Carlton Reserve, which opened last year in Southwestern China’s Jiuzhaigou Valley, is a great example of this. The valley was named for the nine Tibetan villages in the surrounding mountains and is an example of the beauty that flourishes when nature is left untouched.

Ritz-Carlton Reserve is a jewel in the crown of our luxury brands with a focus on well-being, which is a trend on the rise. More travelers are looking toward the holistic, incorporating wellness into their travel plans. This is reflected in the surge in wellness tourism we are seeing today.

The St. Regis Chicago / Photo: Courtesy of Angie McMonigal

How have Marriott’s luxury hotels evolved?

As the bar is raised on hotel experiences from a design point of view, our brands have struck a balance between honoring their heritage and embracing modernity. We prioritize collaboration with renowned architects and designers to ensure that we evolve while staying true to our brands’ distinct virtues. A notable example is the opening of The St. Regis Chicago in 2023. Designed by internationally acclaimed architect Jeanne Gang, this property stands as the tallest building in the world crafted by a female architect.

Grand Reserve Villa at Zadún, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, San José del Cabo, Mexico / Photo: Courtesy of Edgardo Contreras

Many of our properties are now sanctuaries for the mind, body and soul. The St. Regis Kanai Resort in Riviera Maya, for instance, curates personalized wellness inspired by ancient local cultures. Zadún, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Cabo, boasts one of the only Savasana sound rooms in existence, offering guests a meditative escape through sound therapy and a vibrational floor.

The St. Regis Bar at The St. Regis Kanai Resort, Playa del Carmen, Mexico / Photo: Courtesy of Jason Dewey

What is harder to deliver today compared with the past?

With the growing number of travelers investing in luxury experiences, expectations are at a high. Traditional hotel stays are a thing of the past. Luxury guests are looking for experiences never imagined.

We’re thrilled to have recently debuted The St. Regis Red Sea Resort, which is surrounded by the world’s fourth-largest barrier-reef system with an archipelago of more than 90 untouched islands. Guests can explore the marine ecosystems and marvel at the preserved coral reefs with a variety of scuba and water sports.

What’s your advice on getting the most out of a hotel stay?

Embrace unique experiences, engage with the local culture, and forge human connections. Take advantage of the St. Regis Butler Service. Let your butler pack and unpack for you so you can dive right into your stay. Allow our concierge to make recommendations for experiences, cuisine and activities. They truly are local experts and thrive on connecting.

The Ritz-Carlton Community Footprints program exemplifies our brand’s commitment to making a positive impact on communities. For example, The Ritz-Carlton, Mexico City hosts an experience for guests where they can participate in a student assembly that benefits a local school. Guests who engage with the property team and local community leave knowing they made a mark on the destination.

How do you foresee luxury travel evolving in the years to come?

The global market for luxury travel is expected to more than double by 2030, as more affluent travelers turn their bucket lists into to-do lists. Sustainability, holistic well-being and purposeful experiences are expected to be key trends. For example, The Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage and a few of our other properties in California installed food-waste reduction systems, which led to more than 30,000 tons of food waste being diverted.

Regenerative travel is also an emerging trend, with travelers seeking to leave a positive impact on the places they visit. We offer guests the opportunity for hands-on volunteering and experiences where they can give back. The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort in Puerto Rico partners with the Soul of Bahia Foundation to care for the environment and offers a wide range of volunteer activities to guests.

Do you have mentors who have guided you along the way?

Mentorship has been an integral part of my career journey. My mentors have encouraged me to explore different career paths and helped me get comfortable with the uncomfortable spaces that exist with professional growth. One area where mentorship has been impactful is in the development of empathic leadership. My mentors have shared their own experiences in leading with empathy. This has influenced my approach to team management and building relationships with key stakeholders.

Moreover, my mentors have been instrumental in connecting me with individuals. These connections have opened doors to new opportunities, partnerships and collaborations that have further shaped my career trajectory.