Why is scent so useful to hotels?
“We know how powerful scent can be in memory and memory formation. So, in a hotel, it makes sense to use some kind of signature scent as a unique sensory experience, which will reinforce memories and, when you visit, access those memories you formed there.”
Can you tell us about the differences of using scent in hospitality as opposed to retail?
“There’s a big difference. A retail experience is more transactional, with greater opportunities to make impressions that link to memory and emotion. Most people travel to hotels with less frequency, so the opportunity to get a lasting experience that engages the emotions is shorter. That said, there is an expectation that a hotel will be a window of theatre. You walk into the lobby and there’s a complete sensory experience that they have control over.
Do hotels do scenting well, in your opinion?
“Sometimes. Using scent effectively is a mix of science and art. For example, a hotel may want smells to go with its Christmas celebrations. But to maximise any effect, the aroma needs to be congruent with the experience. So if you link Christmas music with the scent of lavender, it’s incongruent and confuses the brain. It’s about a good fit.”
There are many different kinds of hotels. How should they use scent to express their different experiences and values?
“There are two ways. One is to use scent as a brand asset, like a logo. The other is to use scent to influence the experience. Whether it’s a calm place or a party atmosphere – whatever it’s meant to be. Scent, when well chosen, can amplify each experience.”
Why should we use scent experts in hotels?
“An average person will say, “I like that spicy smell”. But a scent expert (or blender) will know if it’s spicy in a gingery way or a peppery way. That’s where experts come in: to work out what the scent means in detail and how to apply it. Ideally, in practice you want a scent that an average person will directly link to the experience, to evoke a consistent response. Complicated scents may only mean something to one person.”
How does scent work with other senses?
“It’s well known – via the work of professor Charles Spence (head of Crossmodal Research Laboratory at Oxford University) and others – that you can use a sensory modality to affect the perception of other senses. We know, for example, that colour and aroma can affect the taste of food, and it’s much the same for visual or tactile experiences. So if you’re trying to influence an experience in a hotel with scent – by making it more woody, or whatever, – consider that you’re going to have an effect on the perception of the other aspects, such as the visual experience. It’s not just about aroma affecting memory: it affects all the other senses, including touch.”
And how does scent work in different areas of a hotel?
“Apart from the obvious aspect of using scent to create a different feel or emotion to a zone or area, the research we’ve conducted shows clearly that aroma has a physiological effect in the first five seconds. So, if you’re trying to get people to stop and look at something, a scent will do that, as it orientates attention very quickly – I’d argue a lot quicker than vision does.
How should scent be used to express a hotel’s purpose, whether it’s business efficiency or luxurious comfort?
“There are two key factors to consider. One, that you can use scent to have a positive impact on experience regardless of the hotel. There’s a lot of research to show that scent evokes feelings and impressions, so it can really enhance qualitative factors like “high quality” and “efficiency”, and if the brand experience is meant to be tranquil you can use scent to evoke that. However, there’s a balance between congruency and credibility, particularly at the lower end of the market. The brain is very good at picking out what’s fake. So if you had a scent that is very high-end in a hotel that isn’t high-end, then there’s a credibility issue.
What about global hotel chains?
“Each location and clientele-base should be considered, as they can differ a lot across cultures. Memories are a function of our experience, so all our senses respond to the things we’ve been brought up around; our households and environments that influence our sensory perceptions, the emotions they evoke, and their intensity and strength.”
Are there any issues to using scent in hotels?
“Because you’re in a hotel a lot longer than a retail environment the effects of habituation – getting used to scent so that you don’t notice it anymore – is much more likely. So be clever about when and where you scent as eventually it’s going to habituate, and you’re going to miss out on high-level benefits.”
Should other hospitality arenas such as restaurants use scent?
“There’s a case to be made for transport hubs, which are stressful places. But with restaurants, you have to be careful, as scent can manipulate sensory experiences, and can particularly influence taste. So scent would have to be managed carefully, with localised scenting at entrances and exits, but not in food environments.”