What's that smell? How hotels lure visitors with signature scents
World / 25 September 2019, 2:00pm / Jennifer Barger
Washington - Step into the newish Times Square Edition hotel in midtown Manhattan, and its interior - minimalist white lobby, living-plant walls and hipster clientele - looks a world removed from the Godzilla-size billboards, tourist hordes and chintzy souvenir shops outside.
The place smells a lot better than 42nd Street, too, because a blend of citrus, black tea and flower perfumes the lobby and sleek guest rooms.
In keeping with a new hotel trend, the Edition has a signature scent (in this case by French perfumer Le Labo), which is piped into both public and private spaces and is infused into the lotions and potions in guest room baths.
Aromatherapy, once contained to the hotel spa, has bloomed into a branding device and sensory amenity for lodgings for hotels across the world.
By creating or choosing a distinctive scent to distill throughout their properties, hoteliers are betting you'll fondly recall your stay and book there again. "There are more hotels than ever, and increasing competition from Airbnb," says Samantha Goldworm, co-founder and business and marketing director of 12.29, an "olfactive branding company" that blends fragrances for Viceroy, Thompson, Hilton and other hospitality groups.
"All the hotels are trying to one-up each other and make staying there a whole experience. And scent is a big part of that."
"It's about making a hotel seem like more than just a bed to sleep in," says Kathy LaTour, a branding expert and associate professor at the Hotel School at Cornell University.
"Adding scent is something that hoteliers can easily and relatively inexpensively do to further that. Scents connect to parts of the brain associated with emotion and memory."
The space-scenting trend originated in beauty and wellness businesses (spas, yoga studios, salons) decades ago. It's now spritzing into hotels, a practice that started in the mid-2000s at high-end properties and is now trickling down to bargain brands.
Big-name perfumers produce sniffs for some lodgings: Sweden's Byredo, for example, supplies fragrance for Nobis's design-centric hotels in Scandinavia.
But many hotel smells come from scent marketing agencies. Companies such as Aroma360, Air Aroma and 12.29 work with hospitality groups to turn disparate elements - a property's history, its desired clientele, the color of the carpet in the bar - into a signature fragrance.
"For example, if the lobby is full of plants, we might suggest lots of green notes, or if the property focuses on sustainability, we'll use only oils from organic farms," says Allison Lobay, global account manager for Air Aroma, which turns out olfactory signatures for clients including the Fairmont Hotel (oud, rose and musk) and the Sofitel (jasmine, citrus, vanilla).
"There are many ways we can bring the brand essence into a scent." Regional differences might factor in, too, with lighter, tea-based perfumes for Asia-based brands and richer, darker fragrances, perhaps featuring the expensive ingredient oud, for Middle Eastern outposts.
Still, don't expect to spot those reed-stick scent diffusers on the concierge desk. Most hotels use what's called cold air diffusion, essentially a nebulizer that converts cool air and scented oil into a fine mist.
Concocting a custom fragrance can take a few months of back-and-forth between the scent folks and the hotel, and cost thousands of dollars. Many brands - the Westin, the Edition, the Sofitel - unleash the same potion at all their locations as an olfactory logo, the way a pine tree symbol signifies the Four Seasons or a stylized "M" pegs Marriott. "We use the same scent across Edition properties for a holistic brand experience," says Ben Pundole, vice president of brand experience for the chain. "No matter where you are in the world, it represents Edition."
Some niche or boutique hotel owners want a singular scent for each of their hotels. And a few go rogue, following their own noses and buying a preexisting product to waft through their businesses.