Do Your Guestrooms Stink?

First, it was bath amenities, then coffeemakers, followed by bedding and shower-heads. Today, technology is the hot trend in guestroom design and furnishing. Flat-screen televisions, Internet access, iPod and DVD connectivity and enhanced TV programming are all potential ways to separate leading hotel companies from the rest of the pack. What's next?

Smell — both good and bad — can be a deciding factor in many guests' first impression of a hotel or, more likely, a guestroom. A colleague of mine regularly switches guestrooms if the first one to which he's assigned smells at all funky. To him, and probably rightly so, a bad smell in a guestroom probably means it's not as clean as it should be.

Sometimes a bad smell can be so disturbing that it can't be overlooked. I recently attended an industry conference in which the rank smell of the meeting room drove me out after less than an hour. I didn't verify it, but someone told me the hotel staff failed to remove a big bowl of shrimp after a banquet event. It festered overnight and produced a horrible odor. As bad as that stink can be, what made it unbearable for me was the fact that the housekeeping staff used some powerful cleaning agents to clean up and mask the smell. The combination of rotting shellfish and sweet-smelling disinfectant was more than I could take. It will be my lingering olfactory image of that hotel whenever I think of the event. I already dread going back to the hotel for next year's conference.

Of course, there is a positive side to this issue. Many hotel brands and individual operators are beginning to realize that the right kind of scents can provide an added dimension of pleasure for guests.

Starwood has always emphasized the role of all the senses — sight, hearing, touch and smell — in creating the perfect guest experience. Last month, Starwood's Westin brand launched a new ad campaign that focuses solely on the ability of a hotel to provide personal renewal to guests. Missing from the print and TV ads are the standard images of guestrooms, lobbies or even Westin's famous Heavenly Beds. Instead, the spots and ads use the tagline “That's How I Should Feel” to promote the ability of a hotel to restore the mind, body and spirit.

One magazine ad in the campaign features scented strips that allow readers to sample the signature White Tea scent that Westin will be introducing in its hotels in a variety of ways.

Holiday Inn Express is using the power of smell in a more insidious way. As part of its new bathroom upgrade program that debuted last year, the chain switched to a new line of bath amenities that carries a cinnamon scent reminiscent of its popular cinnamon roll breakfast program. That may be the ultimate cross-promotion I've ever seen in the hotel industry.

Short of a new ad campaign or amenities that smell like breakfast, lodging owners and operators can take a number of steps to reduce noxious odors and promote good scents in their properties:

  • Naturally, it all begins with cleanliness. Guestrooms that are really clean — not just masked by strong chemical odors — will smell fresh and inviting.

  • A variety of technologies — from ozone machines to, believe it or not, specially treated light bulbs — can be used to eliminate odors or to refresh the smell of a room.

  • The most effective strategy is to convert your hotel to an all-non-smoking facility. It's the right thing to do, and it's good business. It requires more than a change in policy, however. Guestrooms and public spaces need a thorough and deep cleaning to remove any vestiges of stale tobacco odor. It's worth the time and investment.

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