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Luxury Travel

Inside Look: The Story Behind Luxury Hotel Scents

Around the world, more and more hotels are luring in travelers with unique, intoxicating, pervasive signature scents. JS Correspondent Sandra Ramani takes a behind-the-scenes look at not only how these essences are made, but how they have come to define a brand.

Stroll into any Shangri-La Hotel lobby, and an unmistakeable aroma immediately hits you: light notes of bergamot and ginger-spiced tea that, by the time you’ve reached the reception desk, have deepened into vanilla, musk, and sandalwood. The effect is fresh, serene, and instantly calming—helping the body ease up while reminding you that, while you may have traveled far to get here, it’s finally time to breathe out and relax.

In the last decade or so, numerous hospitality brands and independent hotels have crafted fragrances that they feel sum up their “essence”—both to set a scene for guests while they are on property and, once they are home, to transport them back to the carefree land of housekeeping and room service. Instagram feeds and selfies are great, but, as research has shown, few things can take us back to a specific time and place like a smell—whether the aroma of your grandmother’s cookies and grandfather’s aftershave or the intoxicating blend of seawater, citrus, and sunscreen that instantly evokes a beach vacation. For these olfactory-minded hotels, having a signature scent becomes another way to not only define their brand, but to connect with guests both during and after their stay.

To develop what the brand calls "The Essence of Shangri-La," Shangri-La Hotels tasked an outside fragrance company with capturing the “harmony and beauty” described in James Hilton’s 1933 novel, Lost Horizon, the book credited for the origin of the Shangri-La concept itself—a (fictional) utopian monastery hidden in the mountains of Tibet, isolated from the outside world in a state of perpetual peace.

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Photos courtesy of Shangri-La

At first, the fragrance was only diffused into the public areas of all Shangri-La hotels worldwide, but, following all the positive guest feedback, was later turned into room sprays, reed diffusers, and candles available for purchase. “Guests often say they want to re-create the scent in their own homes,” says Johnson Wong, Group Director of Rooms. “And our regulars love that they can smell it when they are in our hotels—anywhere in the world. It creates a comforting, familiar feeling.”

Like Shangri-La, some properties enlist noted fragrance houses or famous “noses” (perfumers) to create an exclusive new blend from scratch. For the legendary Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo, where the house fragrance is considered as integral to the hotel’s ambiance as its design, Parisian perfume house Maître Parfumeur et Gantier spent a year sourcing raw materials from around the world to craft options in several categories, from floral to fruity to woodsy. The brand settled on Ambre du Nepal. “It has a rich palette of amber, oak moss, precious woods, and musk that evokes total luxury,” says Serge Ethuin, the hotel’s general manager.

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Another iconic property, Marrakech’s La Mamounia, charged French perfumer Olivia Giacobetti—considered one of the top noses in the world—to capture the property’s mix of history and romance in a bottle. “I wanted a perfume that would feel like it’s been a part of the place for a long time,” recalls Giacobetti, who drew inspiration from the unique sensory experience of walking through the hotel’s interiors and vast gardens. The result: a blend of “the simplicity of the palm tree, the sweetness of a date, and the heat of the Atlas cedar, with a drop of rosewood.”

While some hotels create bespoke blends, others partner with well-known fragrance brands to “adopt” one of their existing scents. Fairmont Hotels & Resorts chose cult favorite Le Labo’s Rose 31—an intoxicating mix of spicy floral and wood notes like rose, cedar, musk, olibanum, cumin, and amber—for its bath amenities because they believed it perfectly represented the brand’s marriage of classicism and modernity. The connection was such a hit with guests that, soon, a signature lobby scent was in development. For this, Le Labo founders Edouard Roschi and Fabrice Penot traveled to Fairmont properties worldwide to seek inspiration from local ingredients. The resulting perfume—a blend of North American cedar leaf, European rose essence, Middle Eastern cinnamon, African clove, and Asian patchouli—is a truly international mix reflective of the global brand.

No matter where in the world you may find yourself, scent helps bring back a sense of nostalgia and calm. And it remains one of the strongest factors in helping trigger—or shape—the memories we have of a destination, be it at home or in a hotel far from it.

Here’s more on these hotels scents, as well as a few more favorites:

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Photo courtesy of Shangri-La

The Essence of Shangri-La

Find it: In the lobbies and public spaces of Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, including outposts in Beijing, Paris, and Istanbul

The Notes: Light bergamot, ginger tea, vanilla, and soft musk

The Products: Available as a candle, room spray, and reed diffuser

Where to Buy: At each hotel; prices vary depending on the property and currency, but typically run about $54 for a candle and $62 for a diffuser

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Photos courtesy of La Mamounia

The Essence of La Mamounia

Find It: In the public spaces at La Mamounia in Marrakech, Morocco

The Notes: Atlas Mountain cedar, palm trees, sweet dates, and rosewood

The Products: Available as a candle (approximately $125); perfumer Olivia Giacobetti also created two fragrances for the in-room shower gel, lotion, and shampoo: leaves of citrus fruits (a mix of sweet orange, fresh mint, sage leaves, and absinthe); and Berber Wood (a blend of cedar, rosewood, orange blossom water, nutmeg, and spices)

Where to Buy: At the hotel

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Images (above and below) courtesy of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts

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Rose 31 / The Scent

Find It: Rose 31 is in the bath amenities of all Fairmont Hotels and Resorts; The Scent perfumes the lobbies

The Notes: Rose 31 features a mix of olibanum, cedar, cumin, amber and rose; The Scent is a blend of rose, cinnamon, clove, patchouli, and cedar

The Products: Available in a full line of bath and body products (ranging from $30 for soap to $65 for body lotion); The Scent is available as a candle

Where to Buy: The Rose 31 products are available via the Fairmont online shop; candles are sold at the hotels

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W Signature Scent

Find It: The Living Rooms (lobbies), elevators, and hallways of W hotels and resorts

The Notes: A custom blend of evergreen, lemon, lime blossoms, and laurel leaves

The Products: Available as a candle ($39) or room spritz ($45)

Where to Buy: W Hotels the Store

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Shiso Tea Leaf

Find It: In the lobbies, elevator landings, fitness centers, concierge desks, and public restrooms of Renaissance Hotels; valets at select properties might also place air fresheners infused with the scent in guests’ cars

The Notes: A refreshing mix of tea, lemon leaf, lime, white mint, tuberose, jasmine, gardenia, and lily of the valley, custom-created by Brooklyn’s Joya Studios

The Products: Available as stylish geometric candles ($49) and reed diffusers ($48)

Where to Buy: The Renaissance online shop

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Green Tea Lemongrass

Find it: At the HarbourView Inn in Charleston, SC

The Notes: Airy citrus balanced with warming elements of green tea, designed by scent branding experts Air Esscentials to evoke “the vibrancy of Charleston’s Historic District, the nautical ambiance of the hotel, and the joy that comes with being on the water”

The Products: Available as candles ($22.25), reed sticks ($19.99), and in oil form for portable aroma systems (prices vary)

Where to Buy: Air Esscentials

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