It’s a steamy morning at Mayakoba resort on the Riviera Maya of Mexico, and Suzanne Cohen, VP of Luxury Brands for the Americas at Marriott International, has just finished a presentation on brand strategy at the ILTM Americas conference — an annual gathering of luxury travel advisors and industry professionals. It’s a glamorous setting, for sure, but Cohen has only flown in for a series of meetings. Right before this, she was in Los Cabos doing a site inspection at the soon-to-open Solaz, a Luxury Collection Resort. Later that day, she’ll be off again to check out Marriott properties in other parts of the region.
It’s just a slice of life for a woman whose role at the world’s largest hotel company involves influencing the guest experience in unique ways. In her position, Cohen works on marketing for seven luxury brands and spearheads corporate initiatives, global partnerships and program development like “What She Said,” an event series that she created for W Hotels. “What She Said” is a monthly networking opportunity that brings together dynamic women like fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg for discussions about career, travel and more. Besides all that, Cohen is a mom who cares deeply about helping other women get ahead in the male-dominated hospitality industry.
Here, we talk to Cohen about what it’s like to be a woman exec in the hotel space, get her to share some of her favorite advice from inspiring women who have spoken at W Hotels events and find out if it’s really OK to take the shampoo from the room.
Laura Begley Bloom: Tell me about your career trajectory.
Suzanne Cohen: I’ve worked for Marriott and Starwood for 14 years. I started out doing a lot of operations and marketing at Starwood, focusing on luxury brands. Prior to that, I worked in advertising and the non-profit sector. I was very motivated by my projects and started to travel more as my kids got older. My husband pivoted to a role that involved less travel, so that I could continue to travel and grow my career. I love what I do. I travel every week, meet a lot of people and impact our guest experiences.
Begley Bloom: Tell me what programs you implemented at W Hotels to achieve your goals.
Cohen: Many successful women stay at W Hotels. They like the design aesthetic of the hotels and the quality of our services and amenities. These women are growing in their careers and becoming increasingly successful. They made a choice to stay at a W. We wanted to give back to our guests as well as the community, so we developed programming with a heartbeat behind it that involves their interests in fashion, music, technology and lifestyle. That was the thought behind our “What She Said” speaker series. It’s an intimate moderated forum for learning, inspiration and interchange of ideas. It provides women with a chance to network and hear influential women speak about their journeys.
Most of our guests are constant travelers seeking to share stories and learn from each other. They are looking for helpful hints such as: what are your travel must-haves, how do you balance work and family life and how do you keep it all together. The audience participates, and we record it all to podcasts, so our community can experience them.
Begley Bloom: Tell me about the “Power Trip” series that you created in partnership with Marie Claire and Jet Blue.
Cohen: We recognized a need to create a new space for leading influential women from different fields to interact and network. In partnership with Marie Claire, we chartered a Jet Blue plane with an all-female crew to fly 100 prominent leaders and influencers to San Francisco for a 36-hour networking extravaganza with 100 West Coast-based women. They were able to begin networking on the plane. In San Francisco, they stayed at the W Hotel, where we hosted a series of presentations and panel discussions. We love these invitation-only events. The most important part of it is the networking. Women love to share, exchange stories and gain insights from other like-minded women on how to successfully manage their careers and family life.