Sniff. Say, ‘Ahh’ or ‘Achoo!’

Special to The Times

WALK through the glass doors of the downtown Omni Los Angeles Hotel at California Plaza, and a pleasant scent immediately hits your nostrils. Guests may think it’s coming from the tall glass vases of yellow lilies, but they’re not the only source.

Day and night, the scent of lemongrass and green tea is pumped into the lobby, designed to offer constant olfactory pleasure, although it’s not always discernible to guests.

“I smell something,” said John Edmisten, a downtown worker who was relaxing in the lobby after lunch. “I thought it was something cooking.”

It’s not enough these days to have a great stay at a hotel. Operators of higher-end properties want you to have a great-smelling stay too. Signature scents, one example of “sensory branding,” are an avenue to making you a repeat customer.


At the Bellagio in Las Vegas, that’s lavender sage you smell in the lobby. At the Phoenician in Scottsdale, Ariz., the scent is called Seduction, a spicy citrus blend. At Langham Hotels in Australia, London, Boston and Hong Kong, the signature scent is ginger flower. At Sheratons, bergamot and jasmine, and at Westins, white tea.

Although the scents are usually pumped only into lobbies and other public areas, some in the hotel and fragrance industries say guest rooms may be next.

It all seems well and good, except possibly for those with allergies or asthma and migraine sufferers whose episodes can be triggered by smells.

Hotel operators and those who design the scents say complaints from people with sensitive airways and nostrils have been few, but if you’re hypersensitive, knowing about the trend -- and what to do when the odors are overpowering -- can help you avoid misery while on the road.


Environmental aromas affect consumers’ behavior. “We have a strong association with scents,” said Terry Molnar, executive director of the Sense of Smell Institute, the research and education division of the Fragrance Foundation, a New York-based industry group. If a hotel guest has a good experience, the scent will help bring him back, although he may not be conscious of its role in that decision. “It is a way to brand your hotel,” Molnar said. “If it’s done right, it’s a subliminal scent.”

“We perceive that things that smell good are good,” said Dr. Alan Hirsch, a physician who heads the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago. “People like baby-powder smell, and citrus smells clean.”

“We use scent as an interior-design element,” said Mark Peltier, president of AromaSys Inc., a Minnesota-based company that designs and supplies scents for Las Vegas casinos as well as Marriott, Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton and other hotels. Scent is just one part of the marketing strategy, said Stephen Rosenstock, a spokesman for Omni Hotels, whose 40 properties feature the lemongrass and green tea scent. “It’s all part of the sensory experience we are trying to provide,” he said. It also includes flowers in the lobby and, in some properties, a “sensation bar” in guest rooms, with offerings such as eucalyptus bath salts, pomegranate lip balm and lavender pillow spray mist.

How much is too much for sensitive types? Even with the subtle scents favored by most hotels, “there are people sensitive enough that they could be affected,” said Dr. Dean Mitchell, a New York allergist and author of “Dr. Dean Mitchell’s Allergy and Asthma Solution.” The problem may be that they aren’t aware of the scents and can’t pinpoint the trigger. Once they do, the best step, he said, is to remove the irritant.


The reaction would be similar to the irritation that some hypersensitive people get from cigarette smoke, said Dr. Sheldon Spector, a Los Angeles allergist and clinical professor of medicine at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. People most likely to be bothered by scents in the air have allergies or asthma, or those who can’t walk through a department store perfume sales area without sneezing or sniffling.

Hirsch estimates that odors trigger an attack in 15% of migraine sufferers.

For the allergy, asthma and migraine-prone, the advice is simple:

* Move away from the irritant.


* Complain if it’s overpowering. The scent level can be adjusted, Peltier said.

* And be sure to pack your medications for allergy, asthma or migraine.

Mitchell suggests his allergic patients get cromolyn sodium (NasalCrom), a nasal spray available over the counter, and begin using it a few days before a trip to a scented environment.

Healthy Traveler appears every other week. Kathleen Doheny can be reached at kathleen