The Fragrant Value of Hotel Scent Branding

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I distinctly remember walking into The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba two years ago and smelling a sweet fragrance permeating throughout the property. It wasn’t overwhelming but made an immediate impression. Made specifically for the hotel, the signature scent—a mix of passionfruit and Hyacinth—is pumped through the air vents and creates as an additional sensory experience for guests. A feeling the property was banking on long before I stepped foot within its walls.

Scent branding is not a new, or particularly earth shattering. But it’s grown so fast over the last decade that it’s basically a norm now for hoteliers to offer signature scents from Day 1. Take for example, The Bernic Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. It opens on July 15 but has already established its signature scent: white tea and fig.

There’s a reason the trend hasn’t gone away, and is in fact, overtaking our senses within the hospitality industry. According to Forbes, Mandarin Oriental’s branding specialists stated that “hotel guests remember what they smell two times longer and more vividly than what they see or hear.” The Sense of Smell Institute urges that after a year, the human nose can recall smells with 65 percent accuracy. In comparison, after three months, there is only a 50 percent accuracy of visuals. Plus, 75 percent of the emotions we generate daily are affected by smell. Needless to say, scent branding is an invisible marketing investment that really pays off.

hotel scent branding
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Behind the Smell

When starting down the path of customizing their own fragrance, there are a few things hotels have to consider. One of which is how much money and time they want to spend on creating the right smell. According to Bloomberg, hotels poured an estimated $300 million into the scent-branding industry last year. To begin the process, hoteliers look to scent branding specialists such as Air Aroma, ScentAir or Aroma360. having worked with clients such as Fairmont, Swissotel, SLS Hotels & Casinos, Sofitel, Armani Hotels and Ritz-Carlton, Air Aroma is one of the top agencies designing scents for luxury brands.

The group works with a team of perfumers, marketing experts, interior designers, graphic designers and phycologists to craft these one-of-a-kind aromas. The complete process can cost a property anywhere from $5,000 to $30,000 per formulation. Which means, if you don’t get what you’re looking for the first time, you’re spending even more to create the next round of smells.

“Creating a signature scent is a very involved process. ... I always ask if they could describe the desired feeling/emotion using three words, what would they be?” shared Founder and Aromachologist Farah Abassi of Aroma360. “We then move on to having a very involved discussion as to who their guests are, the mood they are trying to create, brand messaging, décor and color schemes and brand history."

In deciding which scents are best for a hotel, one thing the brand needs to recognize is that in different parts of the world, what is associated with various smells is unique to the region. “People from India tend to have a preference for sandalwood based scents as it is used in Hindu temples for scenting. Many of the Arab countries tend to prefer a stronger and/or spicier type of scent,” continued Abassi. “Asian countries tend to gravitate to softer, subtler scents with a sweet smoke or woodiness that relate to the burning of incense which is so closely tied to cultural practices.”

hotel scent branding
Photo Credit: InterContinental New York Barclay

Location-Based Vs. Brand-Wide Scents

Abassi goes on to say our interpretation of scents are generational and cultural, which suggests a struggle between choosing a location-based fragrance or a brand-wide aroma. Properties such as Hamilton Island, the Knickerbocker, Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village, Boulders Resort & Spa, Fairmont Grand Del Mar and the Baccarat Hotel have all opted for personal fragrances to correspond to their destinations.

InterContinental New York Barclay created their own signature scent in December 2015 following a 16-month development process. “The hotel tested eight fragrance versions to perfect the main hotel lobby scent known as the Barclay Signature,” said General Manager Hervé Houdré. “The signature scent … creates an impression that can only be experienced at that particular property. Once you smell the scent you know where you are, and when you come back to that particular location, you return to that feeling.”

Created in 2004 specifically for Le Bristol Paris, the property chose the perfumery Jean Patou Paris and fragrance designer Jean-Michel Duriez to design the scent. “It was important to us to create a true olfactory identity to strengthen the “homey” spirit of the hotel. The deep scent reflects this residence’s background of over 90 years of history,” said a hotel representative.

hotel scent branding
Photo Credit: The St. Regis Bali Resort

Large brands such as St. Regis Hotels & Resorts chose a single scent for their properties across the board. The brand wanted guests to always be reminded that they are in a St. Regis no matter where they were. In July 2015, the brand created Caroline’s Four Hundred which was made by scent designer, architect and historic preservationist, Carlos Huber and his brand Arquiste.

“He drew inspiration from the brand’s heritage and the famous balls hosted by Caroline Astor herself. The scent takes its name from the 400 notable guests Mrs. Astor welcomed and features the florals that she filled the space with,” said Daphne Sipos, Director of Global Brand Management. “When envisioning the brand’s scent, we felt it was really important to create a fragrance that worked for all of our properties both urban and resort. Whether you stay at a St. Regis in New York, Hawaii, Rome, Istanbul or beyond, the scent is a part of that experience.”

hotel scent branding
Photo Credit: Waldorf Astoria Park City

How They're Used

How the scents are used with the properties varies as well. Some choose to pump the fragrances through air-conditioning vents throughout the hotel, release the aroma in just the main lobby, or create in-room candles, sprays and body products to release the olfactory experience.

The Fairmont Grand Del Mar in San Diego, California has used the same signature fragrance in its lobby since right around the time of its opening in 2007. “The Spicy Apple aroma evokes childhood memories of home-baked goods such as spice cake or classic apple pie,” shared Jacco Van Teeffelen, Director of Operations for the hotel. “By drawing upon nostalgia and creating a sense of comfort, we set the stage for guests to develop new memories, building loyalty in a natural, organic manner.” Ask frequent patrons if they can recall what it feels like to stay at the property, and you'll usually hear, "it's warm and homey."

Or various areas around the hotel can utilize their own scents to create different experiences for guests. “Leatherwood is in the lobby, Green Bamboo is in the spa,” said General Manager Kerry Hing for the Waldorf Astoria Park City. “The lobby scent is especially important as it plays a role in each guests’ initial impression of the hotel. While the spa scent is meant to give an instant relaxation feeling for the unique and calming experience the guest is about to experience.”

Similar to The Ritz in Aruba, properties like the Four Seasons Chicago and Vdara Hotel & Spa use cold air diffusion systems to neutralize the scents while still pumping them throughout rooms, public spaces and corridors. The process utilizes cool air to push scented oil through a nebulizer that produces a micro-fine vapor which is hooked up to a hotel’s HVAC system.

hotel scent branding
Photo Credit: St. Regis Hotels & Resorts

Financial Scents

When done successfully, not only will guests remember their stay, they’ll also want to take those feelings home with them. For hotels, that translates to additional revenue through the sale of these fragrances in gift shops and online. A single candle at Le Bristol Paris costs around USD $42 while Gramercy Park Hotel’s Cade 26 candle starts at $90. At La Mamounia in Marrakech, the fragrance is available for $180 and is a combination of citrus elements and woody notes of Atlas cedar.

No matter how these signature fragrances are marketed and pumped through vents, there’s no doubt they are money makers. Agency 12.29 states that "a brand with an olfactive logo has a 65 percent chance of being remembered by a consumer, while an unscented brand has a 50 percent chance of being forgotten within the first three months." Last year, Rachel Herz of Brown University, an expert in scent and psychology told Travel + Leisure that within a decade's time, scent marketing is forecasted to be a $1 billion industry. If that’s true, our noses will either be having a lot more fun when we travel or will need a break from hotels overstimulating our senses.

Nicolle Monico

Nicolle is an award-winning writer and Travel Editor using her expertise in the industry to write about luxury travel around the world. You can find her daily searching the web for the latest trends, best new hotels and most beautiful destinations to visit and share with her readers. She's been featured on The Huffington Post, Hard Assets, AMD Entertainment and Remy Martin. In 2014, she was vo...(Read More)

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