Sense of scent

The New York Times reports on the “latest trend in hotel design is to appeal to all five of a guest’s senses, offering what may be described as a sensory stay”. The article notes “From infusing the lobby with a light fragrance to playing a customized soundtrack that changes throughout the day, the goal is to create a memorable experience that guests can smell, hear and feel”. Martin Lindstrom, author of “Brand Sense” says “The future of hotel branding is when there are no logos, no advertisements blasting, but I can just feel I’m there”.

The idea that association with a product or service is more nuanced by using one’s olfactory and auditory organs is relatively new but the pioneers in that area were in the retail industry. In fact, two years ago electronics giant, Samsung, was conducting a test of its new signature fragrance in its “Experience” concept store in New York where shoppers were asked if they thought the scent was “stylish,” “innovative,” “cool,” “passionate,” or “cold,” and, more important, whether the scent made them feel like hanging around the shop a little longer. Likewise, Sony’s “Stylestore” fielded mandarin orange and vanilla scents to lure passersby into their stores and linger on to buy. Automakers, for years, have relied upon the scent of a new car to spur impulse buying.

While the hotel industry is relatively new to exploiting the step-child of the five senses for building brand awareness, the potential is arguably greater owing to the length of time customers spend on their premises. And a host of hotel companies have stepped up their efforts in that direction beginning with Westin’s white tea aroma that spawned a line of retail products and appeared in fragrance strips as part of an advertising campaign. Omni Hotels, uses a lemongrass and green tea scent while the Morgans Hotel Group has a a unique fragrance for each of its hotels.

But there is a fine line between subtlety and excess and as the NYT article points out “with all this emphasis on appealing to guests’ five senses, there is a risk of inducing sensory overload”. A customer in a retail environment can walk out at any time if the smell is not agreeable after buying the product particularly if the product is not one that carries the offending fragrance while a hotel guest who chooses to walk out is one that is not likely to come back.

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Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.

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