As I write this, I am at Halcyon House, in Cabarita Beach, Australia. Not literally – the global pandemic will not allow it – but figuratively, as the hotel’s “signature scent” wafts from the lighted candle on my desk. Our sense of smell is a strong memory trigger, scientists have found. That appealing fragrance you notice when you arrive at a great hotel is not only an olfactory welcome, it can stay with you (hopefully in a positive way) for years after the trip. “A signature scent expresses a venue’s character. It’s an added dimension that becomes an emotive recall of memories of magical times,” says Azzi Glasser, a perfume designer who has created scents for the Rosewood Bangkok in Thailand and the Chiltern Firehouse in London, Britain. Since 2001, when Hotel Costes, in the French capital of Paris, adopted a fragrance “inspired by an ironwood piece of furniture from the Ming dynasty that emits scents of liquor, mild tobacco and wet stone”, hotels have increasingly been commissioning custom-made smells. The Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong was long associated with Ginger Flower by Shanghai Tang, but now has its own freesia and osmanthus fragrance. “We wanted to develop something original for the hotel that is only found here,” says head of group spa operations Andrea Lomas. Flower pickers can’t smell the roses in the French perfume capital Sydney-based company Atelier Lumira designs scents for boutique hotels across Australia, while Antica Farmacista, in Seattle in the United States, crafts fragrances for The Ritz-Carlton, among others. Representatives from the two perfume makers usually begin by checking in to the hotels for inspiration. As well as talking to the owners and general managers, they take in everything: the location, design, atmosphere, lighting, food, drink, music, art and books on the shelves. “We analyse each and every element and begin our process of creating a scent that embodies the spirit of the hotel,” says Shelley Callaghan, creative director and co-founder of Antica Farmacista. Almira Armstrong, creative director and founder of Atelier Lumira, says that for Halcyon House she wanted to capture the warmth and carefree nature of the hotel. “We did this by fusing sunburst citrus notes with warm spices and a signature floral heart of sheer neroli petals.” In the case of the Rosewood Bangkok, Glasser had her boots on the ground before the hotel was even completed. “I visited the site with my hard hat on and learned about the heritage of the city itself and the materials that would make up the design,” the London-based perfumer says. “I wanted to use the finest natural ingredients: the opulent top notes of elemi, rosewood and fresh water; the heart accord of vetivers, moss and amber; and the base notes of oud, cedarwood and ladanum, [which] add a velvety warmth.” Cheval Blanc Randheli, a hotel in the Maldives, is owned by LVMH, so when the management decided to launch a signature scent, they naturally turned to the luxury group’s fellow houses. Guerlain and Christian Dior perfumes’ “head nose”, Francois Demachy, created the Island Chic fragrance for the resort. “The idea was to try to translate this feeling of tranquillity and beauty specific to the Maldives,” says Demachy. “For this, I started with an aroma of black tea accented with the local spices cloves and cardamom, and base notes of the marine aroma, seaweed.” Some hotel chains have a signature scent for all their properties to ensure a reassuringly familiar experience. Essence of Shangri-La – vanilla, sandalwood and musk with top notes of bergamot and ginger spiced tea – will greet you in any Shangri-La lobby around the world with a scent that is “fresh and subtly Asian, to evoke serenity”, according to director of marketing Mavis Ko. Essence de Sofitel, meanwhile – a top note of fresh citrus, a middle note of white rose and base of white sandalwood – was designed by master perfumer Lucien Ferraro to remind guests of “an afternoon in the South of France” whichever Sofitel they check in to, and at whatever time of day. Few have gone to the lengths of Hotel Abaco Altea, in Spain, which has created a different scent for each of its 18 rooms, but more common are aromas that have been tailored to a specific location. A Ritz-Carlton in Miami, for example, will smell different to the one in New York. The latter is at 50 Central Park, the address giving its signature scent its name and inspiration. “We used a botanical map as well as specific destinations in the park to include quince, elderberry, floribunda rose and [scents from] Strawberry Fields [a memorial in the park to Beatles legend John Lennon],” Callaghan says. “We created a scent that essentially brings the outdoors in.” Callaghan says that introducing scent into a hotel environment used to be considered risky, as hotel owners were afraid to offend guests, but that is no longer the case. “We have found that our hotel partners rely on fragrance to help convey their message. In a sense, a hotel feels ‘naked’ without that fine fragrance element.” Of course, most of these scents are available for guests to buy in the form of candles, diffusers and sprays. “Scent is such a powerful connector to memory, so what better way to remember a wonderful holiday than by returning to the fragrance that surrounded you during your stay,” Armstrong says.