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Sniff. Sniff. Scents - New Trend in the Hotel Biz
By Mike Gruss, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Nov. 24, 2008 --In perhaps the most nondescript part of Chesapeake, along I-64 in Greenbrier, a dozen or so business-class hotels stand out, if only for their remarkably boring similarities and their adeptness at staying middle of the road.

They're close to Norfolk annnnd they're close to the Beach! And -- Woo, look kids! -- they're beige!

But a new hotel that opened last week stands out because, in a hipster way, it is different, starting with its converted warehouse appearance.

The aloft hotel ignores capital letters. It rewards hybrid drivers with primo parking spots. Staffers answer the phone with "aloha," which sounds annoying but is oddly endearing.

But once you get past the Ikea looks and funky drapery, what separates the other hotels and aloft is right under your nose.

It's a citrus smell. Sniff. Sniff. It's orange-y. Sniff. Sniff. Someone with a sophisticated olfactory sense might say it's a little like one of those cleaners you could order from late-night TV, but in a good way.

Oh. One more thing. It's copyrighted.

Yes, aloft has a copyrighted scent that's blown through the lobby and entryways. The new Westin in Virginia Beach has its own copyrighted fragrance as well.

Unless you're a savvy traveler, you may not have known this is the trend in hotels. Desperate to separate themselves, hotel managers can talk about price points and workout rooms and answer the age-old question: "What's that smell?"

To compete with the minikitchens-in-every-suite and free-key-replacement policies at other hotels, this is what the industry has been reduced to: smelling different. It's not enough that Britney Spears, Mariah Carey and Derek Jeter (!?!) have their own scents.

A Miami hotel executive told Hotel & Motel Management magazine, "We have an energizing scent in the morning that is a combination of orange blossom and tangy effervescent zest; in the afternoon, there is an invigorating infusion of Mediterranean citrus, fruit and herbs."

The doesn't sound like a hotel. It sounds like a shampoo I can't afford.

Previously, my preferred scent at hotels could best be described as "anything but cigarette-smoke-infused comforters and bleach-soaked towels." Those days are over.

Smell is important. In a survey last year, 60 percent of travelers said they would ask for a discount, complain, ask for a refund or cancel their reservation if their room smelled bad.

To combat all the new stink, The Hampton Inn went so far last year as to advertise their rooms as scent-free. Good luck with that.

So the next time a traveler hauls in a carry-on or walks in for an all-day PowerPoint presentation, he might be met with a splash of coriander and a dash of clove.

All of which is great.

But for the love of clean sheets and premium movie channels, it's a hotel. Let's not forget the important things. Which way to the pool?

Mike Gruss, (757) 446-2277


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