Hotels strive for the wow moment: the instant a guest is impressed. There is no quicker way to wow guests than by smell: what a nose draws in upon entering a property. That is why a hotel's scent can't be an afterthought; it is integral.
Self-described aromachologist Farah Abassi can attest to that. She says that the sense of smell can change a person’s perception, even before they’re aware of a particular scent, affecting mood, emotion, perceived value of a product or a service—or even people’s helpfulness. For three years, Abassi, owner of scent-marketing company Aroma360, has worked with hotels, hospitality groups and other businesses to create custom scents that reflect their brand, enhance the overall environment and, ultimately, increase their bottom line.
“What we do is focus on creating a personalized, customized scent strategy for our clients,” Abassi said. “That involves a few things. We take into account the psychological implications that scent has on us.”
Scent, she explained, affects the brain’s limbic system, which is responsible for processing mood and emotion. “Before your brain even processes the scent, you have a reaction to it on an emotional level.” This, she said, can help a guest connect with a hotel before the guest is even aware of the artwork or the decor.
When creating a scent for a hotel, Abassi and her team consider a range of details, from the broader brand and its image to the specific property and its location. A Waldorf-Astoria resort, for example, would likely attract a different guest than a Fairfield.
Why Scent Matters
Scent is one of the key sensory points for a hotel guest, Loren Nalewanski, VP of brand management for SpringHill Suites and TownePlace Suites by Marriott, said. Nalewanski helped launch the scents program at Marriott’s Renaissance hotels, and then rolled out the TownePlace Suites “Fresh” brand scent in 2011. The other key sensory points, he added, are comfort and sound. “Put all of those together, that’s the customer experience," he said. "If any one of these factors is missing, the experience is incomplete, so to underdeliver means that the experience is diminished.”
Working with a company called ScentAir, Nalewanski and his team determined that combining fragrance with visuals creates a strong customer appeal. When the TownePlace Suites scent initiative launched in 2011, guest satisfaction scores rose dramatically for the 20 properties testing the program.
Ultimately, he said, the goal of a branded scent should be to lodge it within a guest’s memory. Visual memories fade by 60 percent after a year, while the memory of a scent only fades by 40 percent. “Gone is the notion that it’s all about visual impact, and making sure that you have great art, great design and great decor,” Nalewanski said. “Gone is the idea that your sole piece of experience is service alone. The sense of smell as another piece of the guest experience has become incredibly important.”
Nadim Barrage, director of operations for the Conrad Miami, agreed. “It’s about engaging the five senses,” he said. “It’s not just the smell, it’s visual. It’s about creating an entire experience from the arrival process through to departure."
The Conrad Miami's lobby is on the 25th floor, so guests go through the ground floor first. That is where the olfactory experience begins, Barrage said, starting with music and flowers. "It’s about bringing guests into different moods as soon as they step into the hotel," he said.
How to Use Scent
Hotels can use different scents in several ways. The Conrad Miami, for example, uses a white tea and thyme scent that is diffused through air conditioning vents in the lobby for a relaxing atmosphere, and a mango-peach option by the elevators and bar entrance. “It creates the Miami vibe,” Barrage said.”
When creating a scent for the Ritz-Carlton Residences Sunny Isles, Abassi worked with the property’s marketing director, and found that, as a combination hotel and condominium, the scent needed to appeal to hotel guests and residents, alike. “It had to induce trust because they’re selling condos,” Abassi said, “and it has a beautiful location on the water, so it needed to be very fresh.” The final scent combined grapefruit, vanilla (for trust, Abassi said) and lily of the valley (for positivity and optimism).
A scent can also evoke a brand’s personality. TownePlace Suites, Nalewanski said, tries to be “fun and friendly” for long-term guests, so it needed a scent that was not overpowering. “We wanted something calm and understated,” he said. Working with chemists from ScentAir, they developed Fresh, a mix of clover, green grass and aloe, for a "fresh, smell,” Nalewanski said. While guests may not be aware of the scent, he continued, the brain is being “lit up” by it, and the guest will feel calm and relaxed. “Some scents are very perfumey,” Nalewanski said. “You have to be very careful of that from an allergy perspective.”
Roberto Payer, GM of the Waldorf-Astoria Amsterdam, said that hoteliers must be careful when selecting a scent—not too strong, not too light. The hotel must also select a scent that reflects the property and its values, rather than being “everything for everybody.” The scents at the Waldorf-Astoria, courtesy of historic candlemaker Cire Trudon, change throughout the property, Payer said, as well as throughout the year to reflect the seasons. “We wanted the smell to provide an ambience, something that’s ours,” he said.
Cents of Smell
There can be several financial payoffs for hotels using a branded scent, particularly in retail and loyalty. “We have our scented candles available at the front desk in different sizes,” Barrage said. “We even created a little version so the guests can take it in their luggage.” The candles can also be used as a VIP amenity, Barrage said, helping to keep the hotel top in mind for high-profile guests.
Making sure the hotel stay is memorable can prove more profitable than selling a memento in the gift shop. “The second stay, the third stay is very important to us in this industry,” Nalewanski said. Guests staying at hotels using the Fresh scent shared higher satisfaction scores, he said, and were more likely to both return and to recommend the hotel to others.
When working with a hotel to create a scent, Aroma360 also makes candles, linen sprays and other amenities to match it. These items, when sold to guests, can offset the cost of creating a branded scent. “And when the guest goes home and lights that candle, it will remind them of their vacation,” Abassi said.