Do You Stink?

The latest faux amenity to hit the lodging industry is aroma. A number of major brands — W and Westin — and a few smaller ones and individual properties believe that the right scents — particularly in lobbies and other public spaces, but also in guestrooms — give guests a feeling of comfort, hospitality or excitement, depending on the time of day, their mood or the size of the crowd in the space.

I admit that I'm old and out of the demographic and pychographic ranges that respond to a soothing smell in a hotel lobby. Yet, I applaud Starwood and other hoteliers for thinking of new ways to please their guests. Of course, the obvious question is, what's next?

Against this backdrop, the also-always-innovative Hampton brand last month announced a new anti-smell initiative that's likely to resonate with more travelers, including me, than any aroma amenity offered by other hotel companies.

After conducting extensive consumer research, and in conjunction with Procter & Gamble, Hampton introduced Non Scents, a freshening program designed to make guestrooms smell like nothing. No bathroom odors, no scent of cleaning products, no food smells, just clean fresh air.

Wyndham Hotels has also joined the movement, and perhaps even upped the ante a bit. The upper-upscale chain has revamped a number of rooms in some of its properties to create allergy-free accommodations. Its PURE system employs a combination of technology and elbow grease to rid guestrooms of allergies, contaminants, bacteria and odors.

So far, the PURE rooms have been set up at Wyndhams in Miami, suburban Chicago and Atlanta and Puerto Rico. The brand says it plans to create more allergy-free rooms as part of its Be Well corporate philosophy.

Both of these chains are on to something. It's disgusting to open the door of a hotel room and be overwhelmed by smell, even if it is a supposedly positive scent like perfume or window cleaner or air freshener. For me, one of the worst sensations is to be smacked in the nose by the sickly sweet odor of cleaning products. Not only is the smell nauseating, it always make me wonder what horrors the clean smell is masking.

It doesn't take expensive research, a complicated partnership with P&G or a fancy marketing campaign to learn a lesson from what Hampton is doing. While real cleanliness is the most important standard a hotel can achieve, the perception of cleanliness is just as critical. After all, when a guest opens the door to his or her room, even before the lights go on, the first impression is smell. And in that situation, no smell is good smell.

You, as an owner or general manager, should randomly check as many rooms as possible, as often as possible, just for the first-impression smell. Or perhaps better yet, ask someone more objective — a friend, your spouse, a quality assurance inspector — for an opinion on the olfactory status of your guestrooms — and meeting rooms, for that matter.

If you or they are smelling anything other than clean air, your must immediately follow Hampton's lead and do something about it.

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