Reflect on your hotel’s scent

When it comes to depicting a hotel experience in terms of the senses, what’s often left out of the picture is smell. Our sense of smell can at times be highly underrated for its powerful psychological effect on people’s moods.

By Larry Mogelonsky, P.Eng.

When it comes to depicting a hotel experience in terms of the senses, what’s often left out of the picture is smell. Our sense of smell can at times be highly underrated for its powerful psychological effect on people’s moods, and more can be done to activate it in a positive way. 

Start by considering a cross example: home staging. An age-old sales trick prior to an open house is to bake a fresh batch of cookies. Not only does this mask any unpleasant tangs, but it instills a sense of warmth, nostalgia and even hunger that translate into a better overall opinion of the prospective purchase. It’s positive reinforcement. A welcoming whiff can unconsciously enhance favorable perceptions that are consciously formed from visual and auditory stimuli. In this case, cookies makes a house feel like home.

Contrast this to a house that isn’t staged in this way; perhaps an older abode with a slight mouldy odor. Whether you are aware of it or not, certain smells sound the alarm in our minds. The acrid smoke of a nearby fire spells “Danger!” in big, bold letters. Mould might not be as conspicuous as a smouldering blaze, but it activates the same brain centres to a degree.
It’s not like I’ve stumbled upon anything novel here; scents are shrewdly used around the globe for desirable effects, most prominently in the retail industry. Marketers have even coined the expressions ‘ambient scenting’, ‘scent branding’, ‘scent marketing’ or ‘scent as design’; the grand objective is for consumers to form a deeper connection with products and brands to increase sales.

Aromas that relax and rejuvenate

Applying these ploys to hotels presents three general scenarios worth discussing. The first is obvious: pleasant aromas can relax and rejuvenate. Imagine the smell of lavender and oranges pervading every guestroom. It’s but one more memorable cue to enhance my affinity for a hotel.

Second is when a guestroom has an off-putting stench. Bad smells can ignite the fear and danger centres in a person’s brain, causing discomfort and chagrin. The culprits for such stinks might be something as cantankerous as dirty carpets or old pipes. Regardless of the replacement costs, if you ever want to deliver true guest satisfaction, you cannot have foul odors pervade your rooms.

Last are neutral scents. A good smell counts for you, a bad one against, but the middle ground, where most hotels currently sit, offers nothing to activate this sense. As such, hoteliers are missing a key opportunity to foster an emotional bond with consumers. There’s only so much you can do to outmatch your competitors in terms of opulent décor, the size of the in-room plasma television or linen thread counts. Fight on another playing field; fight with scent.

The hospitality industry is rife with ambient scenting success stories, even if those victories aren’t directly quantifiable. Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas pumps coconut spice throughout its lobby, shops and casino floor—a fragrance that is striking yet subtle as well as evocative of the hotel’s tropical theme and proficient in masking the casino’s lingering cigarette pungency. Indeed, many other Las Vegas establishments, notably Bellagio, Harrah’s and MGM Grand, all use similar ambient scenting for these purposes.

Outside of the casino business, look to the Westin Hotels’ white tea perfume or Mandarin Oriental’s conference sprays designed to enhance meeting productivity. Many other major chains are worth investigating for their scent marketing including Hilton, Intercontinental, Marriott and Sofitel. Your hotel’s smell is big business and now is the time for everyone to get involved, whether you’re an international chain or an independent operator.

Thematic infusion
Building on these examples, start to think of ways to integrate scents for your guestrooms, lobby or spa. Restaurants should already have this one covered in a positive manner, although if they don’t, that’s cause for a whole other discussion. Spas are likely already performing in this area of expertise as well. Ideally, you should strive for a thematic infusion—local fruits, herbs and minerals or perhaps a product the region already makes to much applause.

You could even consider a selection of different in-room scents chosen by the guest before or at arrival. Or maybe a holiday spirit—Thanksgiving would be pumpkin spice, Christmas a hint of frankincense and Valentine’s Day is all about rose petals. Plenty of chances to get creative.

The key is to ensure that the scent is ambient, pervading the entirety of a space without being noticeably and constantly perceptible. As well, there are important considerations for allergy, headache and migraine sufferers who have heightened sensitivities to certain smells—that is, too much of a fragrance might backfire with these people.

The bottom line is that you should be doing something in the scent department. This is a friendly wakeup call for you to brainstorm how this underrated sense can be harnessed as a way to further guest satisfaction and develop a loyal consumer base.

Larry Mogelonsky ( is the president and founder of LMA Communications Inc. ( His latest anthology book titled Llamas Rule and his first book Are You an Ostrich or a Llama? are available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.