Next time you step foot in a luxury hotel, take a minute to consider the many ways your senses are stimulated by the design, lighting, music, and, nowadays, scent. Many luxury hotels are making an effort to draw guests in with specially made scents that are piped into lobbies and common areas to subtly shift guests’ moods. Take Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Vdara Hotel & Spa, which lures you into the lobby with a green fig fragrance, while Spa & Salon Vdara fills its air with a pleasant grapefruit odor. The hotel industry is capitalizing on smell’s ability to instantly cue memories and conjure up certain emotions, and turning that moment into a branding opportunity.
Most major international hotel chains — including Sofitel, Le Meridién and The Ritz-Carlton — already diffuse their unique aromas throughout their properties, but smaller brands have started focusing on fragrance as well. In fact, many have taken scent branding a step further and begun selling a hotel’s fragrance in sprays, sticks and candles for you to purchase.
Science backs up investing in fragrance, which directly accesses the brain’s limbic system, the area that processes memories and emotions, according to Simon Harrop, CEO of Brand Sense, an agency that advises companies on how to reach consumers across all senses. Since scents are shown to evoke particular feelings — like lavender does with relaxation — emotions always are at play when it comes to establishing brand preference, Harrop says. It explains why big-name chains are keen to use signature fragrances.
Hoteliers hope that whiffs of these scents will make you link their property with positive memories and emotions, as well as establish and market their brand. “Perhaps a woodsy, tobacco fragrance would be better suited for a men’s-club type of hotel furnished with dark woods and leather, where a lighter, floral-citrus blend would work better for an airy garden hotel and spa,” says Jennifer Dublino , COO of Scent Marketing Institute. Those charged with developing Mandarin Oriental’s scent, for example, looked to the name for inspiration and included a note of orange.
Famed hotelier Ian Schrager commissioned New York City-based bespoke fragrance creator Le Labo to concoct the Gramercy Park Hotel’s scent. Le Labo founder Fabrice Penot and his partner visited the hotel to begin research and development when construction was still under way. The duo realized the fireplace was a central fixture in the lobby and formulated a scent that combined the smell of wood and hints of leather in a candle called Cade 26. Starting at $90, the candle is available for purchase through the Gramercy Park Hotel.
While signature blends are intended to be one-of-a-kind, many luxury hotels’ fragrances share common notes. Tea and citrus are popular choices, and fig is “a very hot trend in fine fragrance,” according to Edward Burke, director of marketing at ScentAir, a company that provides scents to hotel brands like Westin, Sheraton, Marriott and Shangri-La Hotels. Vanilla, citrus and green tea notes are favorites across both gender, Dublino adds.
Successful scent branding in the hotel industry not only strengthens brand loyalty and produces repeat guests, but it also generates additional revenue from the sale fragrance products. W Hotels, L’Hôtel Le Bristol and Hôtel Costes in Paris, and The Langham Hotels all peddle forms of their fragrances. But Harrop sees even more potential for hoteliers to reach guests’ other senses and define a brand. Places like Vdara Hotel & Spa are catching on. Not only can you pick up an oil diffuser that mimics the sweet-smelling fig scent in Vdara’s lobby, you can re-create a hotel room at home by purchasing its robes, pillows and custom-designed Sealy mattresses.