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The scent of well-being in hotels

The spa and wellbeing sector has grown greatly in the last decade. The global wellness industry is now estimated to be worth $4.2 trillion according to the Global Wellness Institute’s (GWI) 2017 Global Wellness Economy Monitor, with the wellness-tourism sector taking $563 billion of that larger stake.

That includes hotels and spas, as it is in the wellness spaces that scenting and fragrance have pioneered the wider use of olfactory signals in the hospitality industry. 

“Olfaction is a sense, in which external chemical information is carried and transformed into the central nervous system in patterns of brain activity, which is involved in mediating odour perception.”

Trace Amines and Neurological Disorders, 2016

Leading the way in multi-sensorial marketing

It could be argued that the spa has been at the vanguard of the multi-sensorial hotel. While not everyone would expect scenting in a lobby or bedrooms – millennials being the exception – they certainly would in a spa, where fragrance is a key signal of relaxation: immediately telling the traveller of the sensory nature of the location. 

For example, Bulgari Hotels & Resorts uses a proprietary Green Tea fragrance for a ‘healing and relaxing’ atmosphere, while The Sheraton Carlsbad Resort & Spa uses a bergamot, jasmine and freesia scent, designed to evoke warm memories, relax the body and calm the mind. Marriott International, the largest hotel chain in the world, has 30 brands in its portfolio and among half of those has a signature or a scent program. With its focus on wellness and health, Westin was the first to roll out its signature White Tea scent (a blend of white tea, wood cedar, and vanilla) and amenities line—done with fragrance manufacturer Mane—more than a decade ago with the goal of energizing its guests. You can discover more real-life examples of how hotels employ scent here.

Scenting in a spa adds an indelible sense of luxury, giving a premium feeling to the hotel or resort in which it is based. Guests already searching for enhanced well-being approaches in their personal lives will no doubt have the same need carry over into their expectations from a luxury hotel – and that can be an important differentiator for hotels in a competitive marketplace. 

From aromatherapy to scent marketing

One example of how wellness has seeped into other areas of hotel life is in aromatherapy – with the use of plant extracts to promote health and well-being. This was once confined to the hotel spa, but is now more common in the wider hotel.

“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.”

Washington Post, Sept 2019

Spas have also led the way in scent-mapping: the delineation of areas and activities within hotels by way of scent. In the spa a scent is normally restful, signifying to users that they have entered a special place where they can expect to feel pampered and treated with care. A report in CN Traveler suggests that a fragrance can be the signal that you have entered the comfort zone.


“You’re welcomed first with the scent and it feels akin to entering a spa: It’s calming and it makes me feel like I can relax, that my vacation has started”.

Lisa Chung, an avid traveler and former travel marketer

From the moment a guest arrives at a hotel, they want to be able to relax and experience something that isn’t part of their day to day. They want to feel special. The right scent as a guest enters the lobby can create the perfect ambience and a powerful first impression with guests – but it shouldn’t stop there.

The entire hotel space and its many rooms offering differing functions can each be enhanced through the use of scent. For example, public areas like the lobby, lounge, meeting rooms, spa, fitness centre, restaurant, washroom and more. Where a hotel restaurant may choose a spicy or fresh-baked scent to lure guests in, a fresh smelling washroom suggests good hygiene and offers reassurance. Fragrance can be and should be used by a hotel to gain a unique advantage, because a scent has the potential to leave a truly lasting impression on guests, triggering happy memories long after their stay is over.

Scenting can be an effective tool in communicating brand or location, expressing comfort and familiarity, excitement – and a feeling of well-being. As spas know, getting the scent right is an important factor. Our sense of smell is linked directly to the part of the brain responsible for memories and emotions, so fragrance can play a vital role in not only keeping guests happy, but ensuring they come back and relive the experience.

“Today, evidence-based studies around scent’s powerful impact on our well-being are being released fast and furiously.”

Global Wellness Summit

Olfactive signals and scent are used to create more immersive experiences in the hotel space. Of all the five senses, smell is the one that triggers emotions and memories most powerfully. By connecting a certain scent to a specific memory, the subconscious is able to stir up an emotion. For hotels, when a guest smells the scent again, it conjures up memories that could be wonderful, and so by combining traditional marketing strategies and elements of scent marketing, a strong sensory branding program can be created that could go a long way to improve the well being of guests, staff and your business.


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