Scents, Sense and Sensitivity in the Hotel World

On a recent site inspection to the JW Marriott Grande Lakes in Orlando we saw the meeting space, listened to the employees, tasted the food and smelled the hotel. That’s right – smelled. As we entered the lobby we noticed a lovely tropical/citrus/flowery aroma. The subtle scent co-mingled with the sounds of the central fountain, the glean of the marble floors and the warmth of the lighting. It made a wonderful first impression. In speaking with the General Manager, he mentioned that they took great care to create this unique “signature scent” to heighten the guests’ sensory experience at the property.

Scents create an ambiance and arouse an emotional connection. Just as classical music inspires serenity or a certain song evokes a memory from long ago, a scent can do the same thing (i.e. the smell of fresh baked cookies making you feel at home). The hotel world has been using scents to differentiate themselves for some time. I remember walking into the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas for the first time and getting a whiff of coconut oil and incense. The fragrance was exotic! It transported me and even relaxed me…let the good times roll!

Today, scent marketing is a strategic business decision and there are companies dedicated to the art. Air Aroma, for example, specializes in creating custom scents for many industries, including hotels. You can even change fragrances over the course of the day or year with their Aroscent Pro technology. They state, “Scent branding is more than just diffusing a pleasant fragrance in a space. It is the art of taking a company’s brand identity, marketing messages, target audience and matching these with a fragrance that amplifies these branding aspects.”

But when is the message overkill? On a recent trip to Quebec City our lovely hotel room was perfect in every aspect except that it smelled. It wasn’t a bad smell either…it was too much of a “pleasant” smell. The affect was like walking into a Febreze factory and the assault gave me a headache. We noticed a diffuser hanging on the wall and immediately detonated the device, removed the industrial strength cartridge and stuck it in the back of the closet. It still lingered. Such a potent scent in a small space did not make sense.

This brings me to my next point – sensitivity. These fragrances are of course chemicals being emitted into our breathing air. Hotels are also recognizing that some guests have allergies or chemical sensitivities and many are now offering hypo allergenic options. For example Hyatt Hotels and Resorts offers Respire rooms which includes hypo allergenic mattresses and pillows, air purifiers and special cleanings to remove allergens in the carpeting and upholstery. Other hotels are following suit.

What are your thoughts? Would you prefer aromatherapy with your hotel stay or an au naturale experience?

In the meantime here are the “Top 10 Scents” in scent marketing and the feelings these evoke, compiled by Scent Marketing Institute/SCENTtrends:

1. Feel safe, secure and nostalgic: Talcum powder
2. Be more alert: Peppermint, citrus
3. Relax: Lavender, vanilla, chamomile
4. Perceive a room as smaller: Barbecue smoke
5. Perceive a room as bigger: Apple, cucumber
6. Buy expensive furniture: Leather, cedar
7. Buy a home: Fresh baked goods
8. Browse longer and spend more: Tailored floral/citrus scents
9. Develop road rage: Unpleasant smells (rotting rubbish, air pollution)
10. Become sexually aroused: For men: pumpkin pie/lavender | For women: the sweat of nursing mothers

Note: Individual memory plays a role. If you have had a traumatic experience involving vanilla, you probably will not find that smell pleasant at all.

Photo of Candle on Bed
The Castle Group, Executive Vice President, Keri McIntosh
Written By: Keri McIntosh


Outdoors of the Castle Group office