The Five Senses of Hotel Marketing


People have keen senses.

Taste, smell, touch, sight and sound evoke powerful emotions and memories, and that’s good news for hoteliers.

Contrary to what most hoteliers would believe, travel decisions aren’t simply rational and logic-based. People make buying decisions – or any decision for that matter – based on their emotions.

Sensory marketing has been a secret weapon used by some of the world’s biggest brands for decades. Just think of the iconic and refreshing sound of a Coca-Cola can being opened, and the drink poured over a glass of ice cubes as it begins to crack the ice, fizzle and pop. Studies shows that 35 percent of Fortune 500 companies have adopted some form of sensory branding into their marketing philosophy.

In a time when the entire hospitality industry is talking about the guest experience, the focus is on creating an emotional connection between your hotel and potential guests. Sensory marketing appeals to all of the human senses, therefore, engaging emotions and influencing buying behavior.

Here’s how you can hit all five senses to draw people completely into your experience and make them more likely to book:

1. Sight

People will make automatic assumptions about the quality of your hotel experience based on the quality of your marketing materials. According to a recent study by professors at Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, old and outdated marketing images gave their research subjects the impression that a hotel was not just dated, but also ugly and dirty – even without them ever having visited the property before! That’s why clean and modern aesthetics on your hotel website design, brochures, sales kits, videos and photos are so vital to turning a profit.

While most hoteliers will read this and say, “Sure, that’s why we invested in new photography last year,” beware that a traveler’s sense of sight is impacted by more than just photos. This also relates to your fonts, color palette and overall design. Plus, don’t overlook your copy, which also “paints a picture.” Use words to bring out the color and vibrancy of your destination, such as, “be surrounded by our verdant green jungles and blazing blues of ocean and sky.” All of these sensory elements combine to create a visual experience to draw people in.

2. Smell

Recent research suggest that smell comes immediately after sight as the most important of the senses and most influential on a consumer’s emotional response to a company.

Intercontinental Hotels Group uses the sense of smell to entice brand loyalty. Each IHG brand caters to different target markets and therefore offers on-property scent options tailored to their specific guests’ expectations and desires. For Hotel Indigo locations, properties can choose from four signature scents each quarter to pipe throughout their hotel. For example, past winter scents included Cranberry Apple Marmalade (warming scent of tart cranberries and spiced apples) and Noel (Balsam fir mixed with warm spices and citrus top notes).

Holiday Inn Hotels have a universal scent that is used at all properties worldwide to create a consistent and common experience. Guests will smell a white tea and citrus blend, with subtle notes of woods, musk, herbs and perilla leaf.

3. Sound

Catchy marketing jingles can remain in people’s minds for decades. That’s why advertising music is written with the specific purpose of hooking the listener and nesting in the guest’s mind and decision-making. One hotel marketing slogan with massive longevity is Motel 6’s famous, “I’m Tom Bodett and we’ll leave the light on for you.” Ad-libbed by Bodett in 1986 and mixed in with uplifting fiddle music, it became the hotel’s signature sound piece that conveyed a down-home theme of clean, comfortable rooms at the lowest prices of any national hotel chain.

Truly, advertising often sneaks into the brain through audio. That’s why after your commute, you’re humming the last song you heard in the car. Or, you’re constantly thinking of that witty jingle by a national insurance company. Sound is powerful. Hard Rock Hotels asks VIPs to fill out a questionnaire before their stay, including what their favorite bands and songs are. They then have the guest’s preferred music playing in their guest room as they walk in, creating instant happiness and nostalgia.

Read: Music To Your Ears: How Sound Can Enhance a Hotel’s Atmosphere and Bottomline

4. Touch

Don’t overlook the textures, fabrics and materials that make up your property’s marketing materials and language. Hotels have a unique opportunity to convey the feeling of luxury or sumptuous comfort by accurately and animatedly piquing people’s sense of touch. Doing so can trick a guest’s mind to briefly experience your hotel, making them bond even more with your brand without ever having stepped foot onto the property. Look how much your sense of touch is activated just by adding materials and fabrics in these descriptions:

“Beautiful headboards vs Floor-to-ceiling velvet and leather headboard”

“Kitchenette with all appliances vs Kitchenette with sleek marble countertops and stainless steel appliances.”

“Comfortable bedding vs Plush, 1200-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets and silk duvets.”

5. Taste

It’s often been said that one way to win over someone’s heart is to appeal to their appetite. That’s the power of a person’s sense of taste. In the 1980s, Doubletree by Hilton defied the custom of reserving privileged perks solely for VIP guests by offering a warm, chocolate chip cookie to every guest upon check in.

The gesture suggested warmth and caring and now each DoubleTree by Hilton property follows the brand’s exact recipe and baking instructions to guarantee a consistently delicious experience no matter which property a guest is visiting. Is there a food that is synonymous with your destination? Perhaps offer sample sizes of your own version. Offer complimentary wine and appetizers during a guest happy hour. Or, offer glasses of champagne upon arrival.

How are you currently marketing to your guests’ five senses?

About Tambourine

Tambourine uses technology and creativity to increase revenue for hotels and destinations worldwide. The firm, now in its 33rd year, is located in New York City and Fort Lauderdale. Please visit: