domingo 31 de enero, 2010

How the power of the sense of smell can create value in Hospitality Management?

Perceiving a smell is not only about the sensation this stimulus brings. It is about experiencing the EMOTIONS related to these sensations. Smells can evoke strong emotional reactions, by means of internal processes that occur in the subconscious level of our brain.

This is because our olfactory receptors are directly connected to the limbic system, the most ancient and primitive part of the brain. The limbic system is involved in many of our MOST BASIC MOTIVATIONS, including fear, anger, the sexual behaviour and the survival instinct. It is also linked to the feelings of pleasure related to survival, mainly those experienced from eating and having sex. Thus, a nice scent can bring a very vivid sense of pleasure, almost as if we were having a nice meal.

The limbic system is also involved on memory and two large limbic system structures, the amygdala and hippocampus play important roles in memory. The amygdala is responsible for determining what memories are stored and where the memories are stored in the brain. It is thought that this determination is based on how huge an emotional response an event invokes. This is the reason why, for instance, the smell of cedarwood can instantly transport us back to our childhood reminding the scent of pencils.

Smells can activate memories of experiences associated to them and vice versa. Thus, we can use scents to create future memories. For example, I can choose the fragrance I will use with my newborn baby in order to remember those happy moments for the rest of my life, just by smelling again the same fragrance. Or a Hotel in Sevilla can use orange flower as a banner scent in all its bath line in to help clients to remember their holidays in Sevilla.

Smell sensations only reach the cortex of the brain after the stimulation of the limbic system. Since the cortex is where cognitive recognition occurs and words are created, it is impossible for us to ‘realise’ about scents without first ‘feel’ about them. Thus, olfactory impact is first and foremost emotional. For example, by the time we produce the words ‘green grass’ after smelling a stimulus, we already have experienced our feelings and memories linked to this scent. If it reminds us our childhood, playing in the garden, we will instinctively like it.

Scent-preferences are often a highly personal matter, to do with specific memories and associations. And some scents can have a similar impact to a wide range of population, because they belong to the common olfactory culture of these people. For example, the scent of Coconut tends to be associated to summer, holidays and the beach by a large percentage of the European population, because this scent has been widely used in sun care products. A holiday hotel in the beach could use a subtle coconut scent to create a more complete experience to their hosts, which would remember it better and would tend to prefer going back to this particular hotel. And, as soon as they would enter the door again, the familiar, welcoming scent would reassure them about the promise of having a great time again.

Smells are recorded directly in the memory, associated to emotions, rather than processed in the cortex and linked to words. The brain interprets olfactory sensations in the framework of emotional memories. This explains why likes and dislikes about scents are related topersonal experiences that the person REMEMBERS. And it is impossible for a normal person to ‘project’ or ‘imagine’ a scent into the future.

The olfactory memory is active independently of the awareness we have of it. We just ‘feel’ comfortable or uncomfortable, often without actually noticing the smell. Thus, playing with the subconscious feelings linked to olfactory sensations can bring a distinctive competitive advantage in hospitality management, because scents can contribute powerfully to help clients ‘feeling’ comfortable.

Open-Senses explored the possibilities for atmosphere creation in hospitality managementtogether with the Students of the Master of ‘Innovative Hospitality Management’ at ESADE Sant Ignasi, lead by Esther Binkhorst, teacher of ‘Imagineering’. In an open session, we smelled and discussed the fragrances that can help creating the following atmospheres in a Hotel:

CLEAN. The most basic need clients have is the reassurance about safety and cleanness of a hotel.Clients appreciate the ‘clean-like’ scent, particularly in bathrooms. It brings an impression of ‘fresh’, ‘hygienic’ and ‘immaculate’ and reinforces the feeling of trust. An example of clean-like scent is a fresh watery citrus fragrance with pine nuances.

RELAXING. Hotels are using decoration with colours, textures and lighting to create a relaxing ambiance that guests appreciate. A subtle relaxing fragrance can bring a calming, reassuring and comforting feeling, complementing and enhancing the decoration.Like music, fragrance can help us to relax and it should be possible to put it on or off when required. For example, a nostalgic fragrance with lavender and violet notes would help the hotel clients to relax.

HOMELY. Many ‘homely hotels’ have bedrooms full of little personal touches that guests expect because they wish to feel ‘like at home’ in their rooms. A subtle homely fragrance could help bringing a feeling of cosines, harmony and tradition. For example, a well selected fragrance with subtle baby care notes and a soft woody bottom would create a sense of cocooning and familiarity in the bedrooms.

WELCOMING. All hotels strive to be perceived as ‘welcoming’ because this is one of the most important attributes guests value. A well chosen fragrance at the reception can create a positive and warm atmosphere, bringing a sense of authenticity and contributing to the special charm we want to create. For instance, a soft floral fruity fragrance with subtly welcoming coffee nuances could make the distinctive ‘welcoming effect’, enchanting guests since the very first minute.

HAPPY. Some hotel areas, particularly the breakfast room, search bringing a delightful sense of happiness by means of a special lighting and decoration with flowers and fruits. A subtle fragrance at the entrance could reinforce the feeling of a ‘happy wake-up’, like a wish of ‘having a nice day’. As a rule, fragrance scents should not interfere with the enjoyment of the food delicate flavours. Thus, such ‘good day’ scents should only be placed at the entrance, not in the room and less next to the tables. A well-placed happy fragrance could reinforce a cheerful, colourful and festive common feeling of the breakfast room. A scent of zesty fruits and sweet gourmand notes would do a great effect.

STIMULATING. Hotel guests often need a stimulating get-up and they use the shower to awake and start the day in the best conditions. An intense, stimulating fragrance for the shower could guests to feel more awaken and invigorated in the morning. For example, a wild citrus fragrance with intense notes of ginger and cardamom.

REFRESHING. In summer and in warm areas, most hotels use fans and air conditioning to refresh guests and protect them from the hot weather. A crisp, fresh and vibrant fragrance can bring a freshness that guests will appreciate by contrast with the hot climateand will complement the effect of the air conditioning systems. For example, a fresh watery fragrance with notes of peppermint and green tangerine peel would create such a refreshing effect.

SENSUAL. Many guests look for a romantic and sensual atmosphere in a hotel. A suitable sensual fragrance for the bedroom would help guests to feel desirable, irresistible and sexy, and to remember forever this special occasion. Since this type of fragrance is more personal, a selected range of top quality scents should be available for them to choose. Such fragrance could be used to impregnate the air, the sheets and pillows, and even the bath cosmetics. For example, a luxurious oriental fragrance with refreshing notes of champagne and rose buds would be perfect.

UNUSUAL. To some hotels, being perceived as special and different is key. A specially designed fragrance can help surprise the guests as much as designed furniture or a different concept of the space. An unusual fragrance is another way to communicate guests that the hotel is cool, distinctive and interesting. For instance, an extravagant blend of guava, fig leaves, rum and gardenia could create an interesting atmosphere.

Esther Binkhorst is the director of Co-Creations, S.L. and together with Open-Senses we offer support to Hospitality Management on Sensory Marketing, with specialization on Olfactory Branding. As business partners, Open-Senses and Co-Creations can manage the whole Sensory Marketing project: from the marketing message to co-creating the sensations, developing them, testing them with clients and implementing them in the most convenient way.

At Open-Senses we are passionate about sensory innovation. If you share this passion, you can contact us at