Dollars and Scents
The sweet smells of success wafts through hotel lobies nationwide, but are signature scents really effective at drawing return customers?
Upon entering the lobby at The Joule Dallas, you immediately notice the Tuscan-yellow throw pillows, an antique wheel and rich, dark woods. While you're soaking in the urban-chic ambience, you feel yourself transported into a world full of of clean, fresh laundry laced with ocean air. Or, at least that's where the hotel hopes your mind wanders thanks to a steady stream of "White Linen," a scent developed specifically for the property.
Custom scents are wafting through boutique hotels, independently owned properties and large chains like the JW Marriott and Ritz Carlton, all of which are hoping to pass the smell test and reinforce their branding through customers' nostrils. "Scent is giving the ability to take a brand to a whole new level," says Susan Sexton, of BLEND Custom Parfum, hired by Chateau Elan Resort in Brasselton, GA, to develop a scent for its spa and lobby. "It will be spa-focused with scents of lavender, eucalyptus and lighter, uplifting fragrances."
"Since scent is about memory, we enhance our guests' experience by giving them the opportunity to enjoy our sensory brand onsite and to take a (wine) bottle home to remind them of their enjoyable stay at Chateau Elan," says Doug Rollins, VP of marketing and sales.
Businesses looking to capitalize on the sweet smell of success have looked to smell before. Time magazine reported last year that a study conducted by Nike showed that adding scents to their stores increased intent to purchase by 80 percent. It's thought that in scent marketing the sense of smell is most directly related to the parts of the brain responsible for processing emotion.
Scent companies like ScentAir have labeled this concept the Proust-ian Effect after French author Marcel Proust.
His novel Remembrance of Things Past was the first to explicitly link smell and memory when he wrote about the emotional power of the smell of Madeleine cakes. But because people associate different smells with memories, scent marketing is an imprecise science and it's also big business. Five companies in the US control around 80 percent of the world market and an estimated 20 percent of US retailers are their customers.
Matching smell to a hotel's image is key when developing a scent.
"We embraced the history," explains Joel Freyberg, general manager of The Chatwal, open since 2010 in NY's theater district. Krigler, a perfumier who created scents for stars like Marlene Dietrich, created Chatwal No. 44.
The landmark Art Deco building was once the Lambs Club, the country's first professional theater club, where stars like Fred Astaire and John Wayne hung out. "We went back to the early 1900s and asked what was popular at that time," says Freyberg. "They came up with a scent that's woodsy, amber and with a little bit of fruit. When you come in here, it's a little bit of an oasis. We want to bring back the days of cards and conversations."
And so, a lit Chatwal No. 44 candle in the lobby and backgammon sets help recall a bygone era. New York's Dream Downtown on the border of Chelsea and Meatpacking District used a custom scent to create a quiet, calming haven. The introduction was timed with last summer's opening. "The aim of Dream Downtown's scent is to transport guests to a place of comfort and distinction," says Jordanna Gualtieri, the hotel's publicist. "The signature scent is inspired by all things luxurious." Sandalwood, warm spices, oudh and smoky leather notes are in the fragrance.
Similarly, Vdara Hotel & Spa in Las Vegas introduced two signature scents — Green Fig, for the hotel; and Pink Grapefruit, for the spa — when it opened in 2009. The hotel's management worked with an outside perfumier. "As a non-smoking hotel and a part of CityCenter, one of the largest sustainable developments in the world, Vdara uses the essence of fig for the hotel scent and grapefruit for the spa scent to reinforce the natural feel and atmosphere of the spaces," says Carmel Gonzalez, Vdara's executive director of finance. It appeals to Vdara's eco-minded guests.
Knowing the target audience is a good starting point for conceptualizing the scent. JW Marriott's primary guests are business travelers. Last fall, JW Marriott Chicago was the first US hotel to obtain "Subtle Sophistication" (currently wafting through the lobbies of its 53 hotels worldwide). The scent is a custom blend developed with ScentAir. "It has notes of lavender that can help relax after a long day of meetings, with citrus and rosemary notes," says Mitzi Gaskins, VP and global brand manager of JW Marriott.
"One of the hallmarks of our hotels is being calm and the scent is all about it. It's less is more — our guests are looking for spaces with clean lines and design, nothing fussy. We spent a half day with ScentAir, taking them through our brand positioning," explains Gaskin. "Then they came back with five recommendations. We had between 12 and 15 people on the committee, because it's very subjective, right?"
Bath amenities were an inspiration for select Ritz-Carlton properties. MeBath, based in Los Angeles, created "bath ice cream" (a six-oil blend with Epsom salts) in signature scents for nine Ritz-Carlton hotels, including The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay's pumpkin spice, an ode to the California town's annual pumpkin festival each fall. "For Denver we did "Hops 'n' Honey," because they have a lot of breweries in their area," says Alyssa Jahnke, MeBath's general manager. Its latest scent ("Champagne n Shimmer" with gold mica, Champagne and rose) is for The Ritz-Carl-ton Los Angeles. "They've incorporated it into their hotel with corporate gifts, in-room amenities, retail in their spa and gift store, and they've just started using it in their spa treatments."
In some cases these unique aromas are available for purchase in a hotel's spa, gift shop or online store, or in a room's mini bar. Chatwal No. 44 candles sell for $35-$65. Vdara guests can order scent sticks ($25, set of 20) at the hotel as well as online.
Ritz-Carlton properties with signature scents sell the "bath ice cream" for $9. Chateau Elan will retail its fragrance line that includes perfume, balm, body lotion, shower gel and a room scent. "When they perceive our custom scent, we hope it will encourage them to return to the resort for another memorable stay," says Rollins.
What hotels and spas have figured out is that customers return for scen-timental reasons, but which scents are the most powerful, well, that remains a mystery of chemistry, psychology and sensory perception.
These hotel lobbies could contain your next signature scent.
● THE CHATWAL, New York, NY, "Chatwal No. 44"
● JW MARRIOTT, worldwide, "Subtle Sophistication"
● VDARA HOTEL & SPA, Las Vegas, "Pink Grapefruit" (spa) and "Green Fig" (hotel)
● THE RITZ-CARLTON DENVER, "Hops and Honey"
● THE RITZ-CARLTON ATLANTA AND BUCKHEAD, "Sweet Georgia Peach"
● THE RITZ-CARLTON LOS ANGELES, "Champagne n Shimmer"
● THE RITZ-CARLTON CHARLOTTE, "Honey Chocolate"
● CHATEAU ELAN RESORT, Brasselton, Georgia, in development (see description in story)
● DREAM DOWNTOWN, New York, NY, (see description in story)
● MANDALAY BAY RESORT & CASINO, LAS VEGAS, "Coconut Spice"
● THE COOPER SQUARE HOTEL, New York City, "Wanderlust"
● FOUR POINTS BY SHERATON, nationwide, "Pinwheels in the Breeze"
● WESTIN HOTELS & RESORTS, nationwide, "White Tea"