Patricia Di Benedetto went from running shoes to running strategies for cruise lines.
Prior to joining the travel industry, the Richmond Hill, ON native spent 15 years in the sportswear biz, working for global brands like adidas and Reebok, the latter of which she was a director of merchandising and marketing operations.
Di Benedetto cruised into travel almost five years ago, landing a position at Royal Caribbean, and now, she is the business relationship lead for Eastern Canada at Explora Journeys, MSC Group’s new luxury-lifestyle cruise brand.
She’s seven months into the role and “loving every second,” Di Benedetto tells PAX.
Explora Journeys is setting sail for the first time this summer as EXPLORA I (the first of a planned fleet of up to six luxury ships) departs from Southampton, UK, on July 17.
Here in Canada, Di Benedetto is leading and managing a strong go-to-market strategy “that will lead to success for my travel partners,” she says.
On any given day, Di Benedetto could be implementing specialist training programs, creating unique marketing plans, conducting consumer events or “most importantly, maintaining strong relationships with my partners so they know they can rely on me for help when needed.”
“I love introducing Explora Journeys to the travel advisor community,” Di Benedetto says. “It is so exciting to work for a company that is led by a passionate family. They not only have a clear vision of how they want to redefine the luxury ocean experience, but they also paired that vision with months of consumer research to create the perfect experience.”
“I work with a team of highly-talented and collaborative individuals that make each and every day amazing – truly the best of the best!”
What does she love most about the travel industry?
“The people, the people, the people!” she says. “I am very fortunate to work in an industry full of amazing and talented individuals. Their expertise and dedication to their clients is truly inspiring. I learn something new from them every day.”
Here, PAX Checks In with Di Benedetto to discuss five-course dinners in Greece, the time she ran more than 300 kilometres in a relay, and her idea of perfect happiness.
PAX: What are three essential items you always travel with?
Patricia Di Benedetto (PDB): A Bluetooth speaker (I listen to music any chance I can get), a hair straightener (you don’t want to see what my hair looks like without it!) and phone charger (if you’ve ever forgotten one while travelling, you’ll understand why this made my top three).
PAX: What’s your favourite airport and why?
PDB: Nashville International Airport. There’s nothing like waiting for your flight while listening to live music and grabbing a bite to eat!
PAX: What was the first trip you ever took?
PDB: Italy with my parents and two older brothers. Both of my parents immigrated to Canada, leaving most of their family back home. It was the first time I met my grandparents, which was super special.
PAX: What’s the most memorable meal you ever ate while travelling?
PDB: On my honeymoon to Greece, my husband and I read a magazine that was in the seat pocket of the aircraft from Mykonos to Rhodes that featured an article titled “Top 10 things to do in Rhodes.” One suggestion was to find a hidden restaurant that had no name visible. You had to simply find it by the description of the exterior and the landmarks around it. Once we found it, we walked in and there were no menus. You simply selected the protein you wanted from a display case and then were seated accordingly. The higher the quality of item, the better choice of seating you were granted. We splurged that night and were brought into a beautiful garden and served the absolute best meal we ever had. The chef created a five- course menu all designed around the fish that we had chosen and the flavours of each dish were so incredibly unique. It was no wonder this was on that list of things to do. Today, that meal would have cost us 513 Euros.
PAX: What’s your biggest travel pet peeve?
PDB: When the person seated behind you is hitting their screen! On my last flight, two grown men were playing a game and both were tapping the back of my seat. It was ridiculous!
PAX: What is your funniest travel anecdote?
PDB: I was in Santorini, staying in Oia, and I wanted to go to the beach for the day. We took about an hour-long cab ride and enjoyed some sun and a nice lunch. When it was time to head back, we were looking for a cab but there were none hanging around. So, we kept walking, and walking, and walking and got very, very lost. This was the early 2000s when cell phones were rare (which meant no Wi-Fi or map to guide us!) After four hours of walking, the sun was setting and I hit full panic mode. A kind mind who didn’t speak a word of English could clearly see we were lost, stopped and offered us a ride. We desperately accepted, and thankfully, it did not turn into an unsolved mystery episode. Turns out, we were pretty close to our hotel and only needed about another 10 minutes of walking time.
PAX: Would you travel for a month in luxury or travel for a year on a budget?
PDB: Without a doubt, I would choose a month in luxury. I was very fortunate in my younger years to travel on a budget and visit many incredible places. My life today is very busy, between my career and my family, that I really enjoy the serenity of being pampered and life being taken care of for me. Travelling in luxury means I will have the highest level of comfort and convenience, which will afford me the opportunity unwind and reconnect with myself and really savour the experience within the place I am travelling to.
PAX: What do you consider your greatest achievement in recent years?
PDB: It’s a personal achievement. In June 2018, I participated in the Ragnar Relay, which was an overnight 36-leg relay race that began from Cobourg, ON to Niagara Falls, ON. A total of 300-plus kilometers. Simply running the race was a huge accomplishment, but also, I achieved a personal best on my second leg of the relay, which was the longest and hardest length I have ever run. That achievement will be one that I remember for the rest of my life.
PAX: What is your motto?
PDB: Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.
PAX: What is your idea of perfect happiness?
PDB: Many years ago, I read a quote that has always stuck with me: “Happiness is pretty simple: someone to love, something to do, something to look forward to.” (Rita Mae Brown).
I have genuinely built my life around this quote. I have no shortage of people to love and things to do, which checks off the first two points of happiness. It is always the “something to look forward to” that can sometimes get pushed aside when life gets busy. My something to look forward to has always been, and always will be, travelling. Every year, I have two vacations planned and will sprinkle in weekend getaways when possible. That is my idea of perfect happiness.
PAX: What is your biggest fear?
PDB: I don’t even want to say it, but I am deathly afraid of mice.
PAX: Who is your favourite singer or band?
PDB: Luke Combs is my absolute favourite singer, songwriter and overall artist. Every single song he writes is about real-life experiences that are authentic and relatable.
PAX: What are your hidden talents?
PDB: I am very good at imitating voices and can always get a good laugh. My mom/the Italian accent tends to be my most popular!
PAX: How has the pandemic changed your outlook on life?
PDB: The best thing that happened to me during the pandemic was being forced to slow down. It helped me appreciate the small things that I overlooked for years. The perfect example of this is eating dinner with my family. Pre-pandemic, we rarely ate dinner together, simply because everyone was coming and going at different times, so it was just the way it was. Then suddenly, sitting at the dinner table every evening became what we all looked forward to. It may sound simple, but that has become the one time a day that we can all be together and enjoy some conversation.
PAX: What is the biggest challenge facing the travel industry right now?
PDB: Staffing issues across all segments, whether it is the airport, hotels or travel advisors. I heard a statistic the other day that stated that there is 30 per cent less staff than in 2019 and the demand for travel has increased by 30 per cent. So, it’s quite obvious where the disparity lies.
PAX: What do you think this year’s top travel trend will be?
PDB: I think wellness travel will be the top trend. Experiences such as spa vacations or meditation retreats, which also leans into solo travel and people looking to reconnect with themselves, de-stress and relax. Explora Journeys has an extensive Ocean Wellness program with a luxurious spa, indoor and outdoor wellness areas, fitness facilities, sport court and running track. Wink, wink.
PAX: What should travel advisors know right now about Explora Journeys?
PDB: Explora Journeys is committed to our travel advisors and offers remarkable rewards, such as the highest-paying commission rate, an industry-first rolling commission program, including commission for paid add-ons, full commission protection and no NCFs.
We are also redefining the luxury ocean experience by offering 461 oceanfront suites, all with private terraces, 11 culinary experiences, eight indoor and four outdoor bars and lounges, four pools, including one indoor pool, multiple whirlpools, an extensive Ocean Wellness program and re-imagined entertainment.