Member Stories

How Venice Enabled Two Friends to Explore Their Passion for Art

Morenike Graham-Douglas exploring the JW Marriott in Venice with her best friend Pearl Renua.

It’s always a special moment for someone to experience Venice, Italy, for the first time. Morenike Graham-Douglas got to do it twice.

The 23-year-old spent three months roaming its narrow alleyways and exploring the canals that cut through the city while completing her undergraduate degree, a Bachelor of Arts, History of Art, at the University of Warwick. While she lived there, she studied at Ca’Foscari (University of Venice), learning History of Art and Italian.

“I really got to explore my passion of art,” says Graham-Douglas of her time living in the city. The experience spurred her to further her interest in art by obtaining a Masters in Art Business from Sothebys Institute of Art, London.

Her passion for art was born when she started painting at age six. Within a few months of graduating, Graham-Douglas curated her first show in London that featured six international artists. She has worked for an art gallery in London, and currently oversees public relations for projects and clients in the art world, which has her frequently travel to art fairs in other countries.

This summer, she got to revisit the place that inspired her with her best friend, Pearl Renua, who had never been to Venice.

The two have pretty much been inseparable since they were young, growing up and traveling together. Graham-Douglas’ mother is Renua’s godmother.

“I’ve known Mo from a very young age,” Renua says. “We refer to each other as cousins.” Marriott Rewards sent the two friends to Venice as part of Marriott’s new You Are Here campaign, which tells the stories of the program’s members as they explore the world, and stay at one of the company’s 19 hotel brands.

Travel can turn anyone into a storyteller, and with its You Are Here campaign, Marriott Traveler and Marriott Rewards are exploring how being a member has enabled individuals like Morenike and Pearl to enrich their lives with memorable experiences and live in the moment.

“It’s such a beautiful city,” says Graham-Douglas, who lives in Brondesbury Park, which is in North West London. One of her favorite parts of the city is the quiet neighborhood of Hampstead Heath.

Graham-Douglas was only happy to show Renua around, “pointing out everything that I remembered when I was living there,” she says. “It was little stuff like my local grocers that I found, or cafes that I would come to all the time,” around San Stae, the large church on the Grand Canal just a ten-minute walk from the famous Rialto bridge. The area “Is very representative of Venice as a city.”

With Venice’s many alleys, “you can wander around, but you have to know where you’re going to fully appreciate it,” Graham-Douglas says. “I could point out small things to Pearl that tourists would miss.”

Renua was enamored by Venice.

“I was really fascinated by the architecture because it’s something that I’ve never seen before,” said the 26-year-old who aspires to work in the music industry. She also wasn’t used to the city’s many water taxis–much different than the public transportation she’s used to taking in London.

On its own, Venice can be a pretty magical place. But both Graham-Douglas and Renua were also charmed by the JW Marriott Venice, the island-based resort where they stayed, which boasts one of the best views of the city from across the bay.

Getting to the hotel can only be done by boat, an experience that is captured in the campaign–and a moment Graham-Douglas and Renua didn’t mind filming multiple times.

“When we were filming we were reliving the emotions we had the first time we pulled up to the hotel,” Graham-Douglas says. “I loved doing it over and over again. The reactions are genuine. It’s such an amazing entrance.”

Graham-Douglas and Renua may have grown up together, but traveling as adults is fairly new for them. In addition to Venice, they have visited Lagos, Nigeria, at Christmas.

Separately, Graham-Douglas counts Cape Town, South Africa, as one of her favorite places because of its rich history, beauty and options for younger travelers, while Renua frequents Amsterdam.

Graham-Douglas would next like to explore the Maldives, “because it’s somewhere that I’ve never been before and from what I’ve seen, it’s such a beautiful setting.”

Renua has her eyes set on Phuket, Thailand. “I’ve heard so many great things about it and seen so many photos from friends. It seems like a nice place to go to get some relaxation. It exudes tranquility.”

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