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What does paradise smell like?

( China Daily)


                                 Westin uses white tea as a part of its "Sensory Welcome Program".

It is that subtle signature that snds out signals that you are about to sit in the lap of luxury, and the first volley fired in a full sensory attack. Xu Junqian looks at the lengths some hotels go to, to capture your imagination and loyalty.

The fictional Shangri-La created by English author James Hilton in his 1933 novel Lost Horizon is described as a valley of serenity, myth and harmony. Under his pen, images of paradise come alive with rippling brooks, verdant foothills, hanging balconies of green and flowering gardens.

But have you ever imagined how it would smell like?

Perhaps its perfume would have bottom notes of vanilla, sandal and musk, highlighted by layered scents of light bergamot and tea spiced with ginger. At least, this is how Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts imagine it to be, having already taken the name from Hilton’s famous refuge.

After meticulously designing the lighting, music, and decor to create an inviting ambience in their lobbies, luxury hotels are utilizing the subtlest human sense to distinguish themselves in the competitive hospitality industry. They are luring guests with signature scents.

In 2006, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts was the first to introduce an exclusive signature scent to its lobbies around the world. It took six months for the company to create "Essence of Shangri-La".

According to the hotel, this refreshing and subtly Asian scent calls forth the feelings of serenity and calm.

"We want all our guests to feel that they have arrived at a safe and comforting haven, as soon as they walk through our doors," the company says, that "adds another sensory layer of welcome". The "safe, non-allergic" water-based fragrance is dispersed by an atomization system featuring anti-bacterial and anti-smoke functions.

After Shangri-La’s launch, other hotels, too, launched signature scents almost simultaneously. What marketing strategists call "successful scent branding" has become wildly popular, even in China, a country where the universal use of perfume for both men and women is still a relatively new idea. In the past, natural scents such as flowers were used.

A number of hotels, whether large international groups or boutique establishments, has gone on to introduce their own olfactory logos, used to reinforce loyalty and that widely pursued sense of "home away from home" among guests.

Starwood Hotels and Resorts, for example, applied scent branding to almost every level of its hotel brands.

The modern, hip and luxury boutique brand, W Hotels, offers "Bling", a special aroma aimed to appeal to the younger jetsetters. Westin goes for white tea as a part of its "Sensory Welcome Program".

The scent, formulated by a niche fragrance store, Le Labo, in New York, smells of "old books, old paper, leather and the wooden shelves" of a library, and has helped the hotel become more "distinguished" after it was taken over by Starwood in 2005 and in need of a clearer identity to communicate with guests.

At the exclusive St Regis, the lobby is scented with the aroma of roses and sweet peas, harking back to the home of the Astors, the founding family. While the flowers paid homage to Brooke Astor, the tinge of tobacco in the air reminds guests of Vincent Astor.


                        At Puli Hotel and Spa, the first luxury hotel designed as an urban resort in Shanghai, the olfactory stamp is a beneficial blend of orange, lemon, peppermint and pine oil.

Invisible though they may be, these signature scents are not necessarily subliminal, as believed by many. But it is backed by science, as neuropsychologists find that pleasant fragrances can trigger positive memories and sometimes, nostalgia.

Some guests not only notice the scents, but they want to take it away with them.

"We have developed and packaged the scent into a room spray, diffuser and candle for guests to buy for themselves or as gifts," says Ilona Yim, director of public relations at Shangri-La International Hotel Management.

At the Shangri-La Hotel Pudong in Shanghai, about 70 bottles of the Essence of Shangri-La reed diffuser is sold every month, at 480 yuan for 200 ml. At Langham Xintiandi in downtown Shanghai, the signature ginger flower scent is the most sought-after product at its gift shop and often sold out.

But there are also hotels that choose to go fragrance-free.

"For one thing, we think the choice, or preference, of scents is a very subjective and private thing," says Ma Yunzhi, marketing manager of Park Hyatt Shanghai.

The tallest hotel in Shanghai, at the top of the 492-meter World Financial Center, has a long list of reasons for greeting customers at its 87th floor lobby with only fresh air. Park Hyatt cites environment protection, lowering the risk of allergies, and perhaps most importantly, keeping its "low-profile" character.

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