Stinky Business

Why do hotels insist on jumping on the fragrance bandwagon?  In the never-ending quest for separation from the pack, numerous hotel brands and independent properties alike have enacted what is referred to as “Scent Branding;” that is, the creation of a proprietary scent to be circulated throughout one’s hotel properties.  As is so often the case in our industry, when a new idea such as this one makes its way to the forefront, it is only a matter of time before others follow suit.  While it’s easy to jump on the bandwagon, there are some rather strong opinions from our guests that are worthy of consideration:

·       “When you approach a hotel and you can clearly smell the fragrance even as you pass by is like being in the vicinity of your nephew the first time he poured cologne all over himself while trying to impress his first date . . .”

·       “Aren’t we all individuals?  Don’t we have our own preferences?  Why do I need to smell anything at all? Especially if it’s been chosen FOR me.  It’s like going through an airport and passing by the duty-free retail shop and being overwhelmed by all of the fragrances that invade my space.”

·       “Why am I being subjected to this scent?  I didn’t ask for this!”

The list goes on and on.  Clearly, Scent Branding is a topic that elicits strong responses from both sides of the aisle; the question is, what is right for your hotels?

If you consider your own hospitality experiences, you will likely be able to conjure up thoughts of a hotel that you have recently visited that employed this tactic which targets your emotional loyalty.  Conceding the fact that you will remember that “Hotel X” had its own scent, are you also likely to remember just exactly what that scent was?  Much has been written on the topic,    though unanimity in guest response to the strategy is difficult to come by.

Despite the intention of developing a deeper connection with the guest, this approach can inadvertently cause serious risk of a disconnect.  Hotel brands and independent owners/operators who employ Scent Branding do so because they believe that this strategy can make customers more loyal to their brand or property.  As with all things marketing, there is even data that supports this premise.  However, there is also data which supports the premise that a hotel brand’s imposition of that which they think smells good to the nose (and psyche) of those walking through their building may risk offending some of the very same people whom they wish to impress. 

Here’s another reality check; when you enter a friend’s home, you may encounter a scent that exists at the choice of your host.  While there is certainly no guarantee that this particular scent will appeal to you, as the guest in that person’s home you (and your nose) are basically at the whim of your host.  Most of us would agree that this seems perfectly appropriate.  However, when you are a paying customer in a hotel, your willingness to accept the olfactory choice of someone else may not be quite so ‘liberal.’  What guarantee is there that the scent selected by your hotel of choice coincides with your own personal taste?  If you are in the lobby for tea, perhaps it is acceptable; if you are staying overnight or longer, perhaps it is not.

Without intending to be, hotel brands and properties that impose their sense of smell on us as guests exercise a certain degree of arrogance.  Previously in this space we have discussed the fact that hospitality is about providing the guest with all that they need and want, so that we can meet and exceed their expectations.  Being forced to ingest a particular scent that has been determined to provide “marketing value” to a hotel’s ownership does not qualify as meeting the expectations of the guest, rather, it is dictating our own business strategies to that guest—at the expense of their personal preferences. 

Innovation is a key to continued success in the hospitality world.  However, the effectiveness of such innovation is contingent upon its impact on both the ‘vendor’ (hotel) and the ‘customer’ (guest).  The blanket imposition of a brand/hotel’s preferred scent on its entire universe of customers is less an example of bold and creative marketing and more of an example of hoteliers being blinded by our own desires (increased revenue) without giving careful consideration to the desires of our customers (guest satisfaction).