Retail in Asia

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Hotels communicate through sound and scent

Think back to your last hotel stay: what did the lobby smell like? Do you recall the music being played, or was it the tune in the lift that stuck in your mind?

The use of sensory design and marketing to enhance a hotel’s brand and the guest experience is becoming an increasingly popular tool among hoteliers. But what is it exactly, and how do hotels manage not only to activate our five senses, but also use those senses to increase guest loyalty and even get guests to pay extra for the experience?

"Great hotels have always intuitively understood that their success is based on consistent and congruent customer experience, which is always multi-sensory," says Julian Treasure, author of Sound Business and chairman of the Sound Agency, a commercial sound designer and consultant. "It would seem crazy for such a multi-dimensional brand category to ignore those senses that have deep emotional [impacts, namely] sound and scent."

Increasing numbers of hotels are infusing their lobbies with fragrance and playing customised soundtracks to guests – all in a bid to seduce the senses.

How hotels seduce you
Starwood’s Westin brand uses a white tea fragrance in all its lobbies worldwide. Omni Hotels infuses its lobbies with a lemongrass and green tea scent, and the Shangri-La uses an exclusive fragrance developed especially for the brand. "
The scent adds another sensory layer of welcome to all who enter, conveying [the atmosphere of] a safe and comforting haven as soon as guests walk through our doors," says Sari Yong, Shangri-La’s media relations manager, Hong Kong/Southeast Asia.

Omni has taken its sensory branding beyond the lobby, adding scented stickers to newspapers distributed to guests and outfitting some hotels with in-room "sensation bars".

The brand is also paying more attention to music played in public spaces, developing playlists that are customised for each property, as well as the time of day.

"We realised that when business travellers are getting out the door in the morning, we need to be putting a little bit of beat in their step," says hotel spokesperson Caryn Kboudi, explaining the move away from classical music and jazz in the mornings. "At night, then we go into something that’s a little bit softer and slower."

Allen Klevens, CEO of consultancy Prescriptive Music, says hotels are looking to distinguish themselves by shunning the ubiquitous jazz as well as playing music guests are less likely to recognise.

Also out to differentiate itself, Starwood’s Le Meridian hits guests with the smell of old books and parchment. The signature scent is meant to reflect the hotel chain’s positioning as a destination for "guests who seek out a new perspective and cultural discovery in their travel experience".

Once through the lobby and check-in, guests step into the lift to hear horses galloping in water.

Le Meridien’s approach is certainly distinctive, making it all the more memorable.