Leveraging Ambient Scent as a Valuable Marketing Tool

Smiling staff, prompt service, and thoughtful amenities are all essential to an enjoyable hotel stay, but a looming stench in the lobby or a stubborn cigarette odor that clings to the curtains may send guests running for the exit. To combat malodors while elevating the brand experience, many hotels and resorts have embraced ambient scents as a valuable marketing tool.

“Smell has been a somewhat neglected sense in terms of being used to help differentiate brands, so scents are one of the final frontiers for marketers,” explains Maureen Morrin, professor of marketing at Temple University’s Fox School of Business and coauthor of a research study on the effects of ambient scent on consumer preferences and choice behaviors. “Hotels have created their own proprietary scents that are not just emitted in public spaces, such as the lobby and workout rooms but also often integrated into their toiletries. Not only is the odor pleasant, but it also comes to have unique associations with the brand over time.”

Because sense of smell is tied to the side of the brain that processes memories and emotions, the appropriate use of scent can positively impact the perception of a brand, customer loyalty, and even the attitude of the staff, says Roger Bensinger, executive vice president of Prolitec, a Milwaukee, Wis.-based air treatment and indoor air quality technology provider. The company has provided ambient scenting services for a number of resorts and hotels, including Hard Rock, W, and Hilton properties.

To determine a signature scent, Prolitec’s clients choose from a long list of brand attributes, or adjectives, that describe the environment of the hotel or resort, explains Bensinger. A trendy, hip boutique hotel may be paired with a bold scent, while a luxury resort tends to have a subtle, calming scent. All of the scents have a malodor-eliminating element, which addresses undesirable smells such as smoke and chlorine.


“The presence of an ambient scent creates an enjoyable sensory experience that causes hotel guests to report feeling better served by associates and less hurried overall,” Bensinger says. “A connection between the scent, that enjoyable experience, and the brand is subconsciously tied to guests’ memories, which makes them more likely to return and recommend that hotel to others.”

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  1. Wow, I didn’t know that sense of smell is tied to the side of the brain that processes memories and emotions. That must make smells trigger feelings really easily. I know the scent of baked goods always makes me think of home.

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