Designing The Guest Experience

Sensory Stimulation of the Hotel Product and Services and Its Effect on the Guest's Decision-making - By Osvaldo Torres Cruz

The aim of this paper is to provide hotels and hotel staff with a better understanding of the guest´s sensory stimuli through the products and services offered, in order to improve management and take advantage of the benefits of the response to sensory stimuli.


In the context of a hotel market characterized by high growth rates, generating an oversupply of hotel products and its related services, hotels are in constant need to develop business strategies that will enable them to stand out and position themselves, and therefore increase their business competitiveness.

The aim of this paper is to provide hotels and hotel staff with a better understanding of the guest´s sensory stimuli through the products and services offered, in order to improve management and take advantage of the benefits of the response to sensory stimuli. This, in turn, will be translated into strengthening some guest´s behaviors that are important for the hotel, such as: choosing the hotel from the market, the relation of the guest with the hotel staff and their informational motivation, and the promotion of the hotel in the social networks.

Key words: sensory organs, sensorialization, guest, experience, behavior, decisions


For decades, tourism has experienced a continuous growth and a great diversification to become one of the fastest-growing economic sectors in the world. World tourism is closely linked to development and to the increasing number of new destinations. Its dynamics has turned tourism into a key driver of socioeconomic progress.

Today, the business volume of tourism equals or even exceeds that of oil exports, food products or automobiles. Tourism has become one of the major players in international trade, and a major source of income for many developing countries. This growth goes together with the increasing diversification and competition among destinations.

The hotel industry as a major component of world tourism, has played an important role in this growth, since last year it recorded a rise of a 6%, according to statistics from the World Tourism Organization (OMT) (1) . This represents not only the expansion and growth of existing hotel chains, but also the constant emergence of new brands that have turned the hotel market into one of the most competitive in the current international economic arena.

In strategic management, you have to consider what happens in the surrounding environment in order to provide a suitable and coherent response based on the competence and the real reason of the company. (1) A suitable response takes advantage of the opportunities and prepares you to face the threats. In the case of hotels, the latter comes from the predominance of the ¨copy, paste and replicate¨ culture versus the creation of new products and services, as it is becoming more difficult to offer a highly distinguishing hotel product with its associated services.

It has been proven that the likes and the level of supply available to the people, lead to look for totally different experiences. (2) Today, the customers´ choice is not only motivated by the cost/benefit ratio, but also by other factors such as experiences, feelings and emotions derived from the purchase and/or consumption of a product or service. (3)

Thus, hotel companies face challenges hitherto unknown to them as creating positive experiences for their customers through the emotions they arouse in them. For this reason, it is of great interest to point out some of the most important concepts to achieve a more effective performance.

Among the concepts to clarify, we have precisely that of experience, as many hotels offer their potential customers the opportunity to live a unique experience in its facilities (as a distinguishing factor) and, finally, the interpretation of the guest's stay is just that, a stay.

One of the definitions of experiences with which I identify most is that of Kant, which he defines as: "Knowledge of the sensitively given¨ (4). In other words, it is the knowledge coming from the interpretation of the surroundings, which comes into our minds, only through the sense organs. The power of the senses on the perceptions and emotions of individuals, has long been studied given their impact on the behavior toward the consumption of products and services.

This tells us that for a guest to live an experience in a hotel, the hotel product, its associated services, and the hotel staff, must all primarily be an infinite source of sensory stimuli as the only way they can get into the mind of the guest, where they become valued and meaningful. It might seem easy, but nevertheless, in order to turn a hotel into a multisensory scenario, one has to ¨pay attention to processes involved in the perception and integration of sensory stimuli¨ (5) in terms of the relation of the guest with the surroundings.

It is precisely the perception resulting from the relationship of the guest with his/her hotel environment, defined by the product, services and hotel staff, what influences on making crucial decisions for hotels, such as:

1- The choice of hotel from the pool of market offers.

2- His/her behavior approach to the hotel staff.

3- His/her informational cooperation.

4- His/her return.

5- His/her promotion of the hotel in the market.

Then, let us begin to discover how to enhance the multi-sensory effect in hotels to make them position and differentiate themselves in the minds of their guests.


1- Sensory stimulation

It is stated that the relative importance of the senses toward brands goes as follows: sight takes 58%, smell 45%, hearing 41%, taste 31% and touch 25% (6), That is why many brands try to influence on the 5 senses to widen up the perception of consumers toward spaces and environments, as well as the identity relation with the brands and the value of the product .(7)

Stimulation of the senses influences on the emotions and memory, thus establishing affective relations in the long run, and a longer life of the brand. This has made the hotel chains interested in distinguishing and positioning themselves in the market to visualize the need to think about their brand, their products and related services as generators of sensations that stimulate each of the senses of their clients, so as to have them identify themselves with the colors, shapes, aromas, flavors, sounds and textures of the products and services they offer.

Since the very moment a guest arrives at a hotel, he/she is invited to identify themselves with the colors, shapes, aromas, flavors, sounds and textures of the products and services they offered. Such stimuli are captured by the sense organs and transformed into nervous impulses sent to the brain, where they are interpreted in a process known as perception. It is important, then, to consider that the process of perception is shaped by the mental maps and a set of filters of different nature, which make the stimuli processed by our brain to exert a different influence on the processing of information and, consequently, in behavior and decisions. (7)

All this, makes the hotel staff to start discovering the ¨sensory map¨ of the guest, that is, to detect the types of sensory stimuli to which the guest will be more ¨sensitively responsive¨, a process we can call ¨the sensorialization of the guest¨. Once identified, hotel staff will find the ways through which stimuli can be generated in each product and related service the guests consume, a process we will call ¨sensorialization of the hotel product and service¨ to have them make sense and value.

Given the fact that culture, language, personal experiences and emotional and mental states are determining factors in making the ¨sensory map¨ of every individual, we need to know every guest we assist in a particular and detailed manner. Direct contact with the guest and the capacity of observation and listening become key skills for the hotel staff to develop their acuity and, therefore, their ability to discover the particular features of the sensitive process of the guest he/she serves, and the behavioral decisions guests make.

Then, we must first understand the main perceptive processes that occur in the brain and how to activate them through the products and services the hotel offers.

1.1 Visual perception of the hotel product and service

Sight is one of the sense s that can highly impact our mind, because it facilitates persuasion and generates a great memory capacity. It allows us to perceive the shape of objects at a distance, and also their colors. The light coming from them is captured by a sensitive layer, the retina, which sends the image to the brain to be interpreted.

Since about 40% of brain activity focuses on vision, and a high percentage of the memory is based on visual information (9), it is important then to generate visual stimuli through the hotel product and its related services to call the guest´s attention. The setting of the different areas of a hotel in terms of shapes and colors influence decisively in the behavioral and decision-making process.

Color is essential for the recognition of an object or a place, because it affects its image and memory in a particular way. (10) Then, knowing the favorite color of a guest for a given product or service will make it be captured as a stimulus, filtered and interpreted as personal, and remain in their memories. Also, a color can change our mood and relationships with other people in a given space. (11)

The color of flower arrangements, both in public areas of the hotel and in their rooms; the foam to be used in Jacuzzis for relaxation and prepared by the butler; the lights in a room or massages cabins at the spa, and even the uniform of the employees, are all examples of how to turn the hotel product and services into visual stimuli.

We should not forget that the meaning of each color varies according to the particular culture of a guest, so that proper knowledge of it will allow us to better and more effectively use colors as an sensory element of the hotel product and services and the guest´s response to this.

Lastly, but not less important, it is the personal contribution of the hotel staff to the visual perception of the hotel product and its related services. Hotel staff must play special attention to the role as source of visual stimuli to the guests and the effects in terms of conducts. Proper body image along with a functional use of nonverbal language are undoubtedly visual stimuli that will attract the attention of guests and, according to their interpretation, affect the rejection or acceptance of the interaction of the guest with the hotel.

1.2 Auditory perception of the hotel product and service

The hotel industry is undoubtedly the industry of relations par excellence, since there is no successful relationship if it is not designed on the basis of a functional and harmonious communication between parties, and hearing is a prerequisite for establishing a good communication between people. (12)

The ear is the organ through which sound waves and their frequencies are distinguished, and the auditory information is transferred to the central nervous system where its meaning is decoded. (13)

The hotel becomes a large stage full of sounds which will be recognized, cataloged, integrated and provided with meanings by the guest who receives them. When processing the sound signals from the environment where the guest is, his/her brain will start a process of comparison with the sounds stored in his/her auditory memory, and will give them a meaning that will affect his/her behavior and decision making. Those sounds the guest recognizes will call his/her attention and trigger his/her memory

One of the most powerful forms of auditory sensorialization of the hotel product and its related services is from the hotel staff as sources of auditory stimuli to call the guest´s attention, for example by using the name or last name of the guest each time the hotel staff interacts with him/her, because the sound of the name is the most beautiful sound that any human being can hear. (14)

Acknowledging a specific melody over dinner at a restaurant, or when relaxing in your room, or simply listening to your preferred music when interacting with the person who attends you, definitively turn into other auditory stimuli of great impact on the behavior and the generation of long term memories producing emotions, feeling and experiences in the guests and making them act in different ways in different environments.

1.3 Tactile perception on the hotel product and service

Paco Underhill, a retail anthropologist, made the following observation: ¨We live in a society deprived of tactile sensations (15), however the human being has the imperative need to play almost everything, because touch is the only sense without which we could not live (16). Touch is essential to learn about texture, hardness, temperature and weight of a product (17) and this must be taken into account in the hotel product and its related services, because it helps the guest to be in constant contact with reality.

However, in the context of a hotel, this sense in generally given little importance, probably because it is very difficult to transmit tactile sensations though the conventional means.

In the case of a hotel, the texture of certain products such as bedding, bath clothing, the massage tables in the spa, slippers for resting your feet after a long journey, the seats in the lobby, the lounge chairs at the pools, bath foams and oils, even touching the hand of a hotel staff when greeting, they will all influence one way or another on persuasion towards the consumption of goods and services; and, therefore, enhance the behavior of the guest in purchasing, use and stay. Pleasant textures will help to settle in the mind of the guest the memory of a pleasant sensory experience associated to the place where he/she perceived it.

1.4- The chemical senses in the product and hotel service.

As both taste and smell have in common the function of detecting and reporting the body about the chemicals we perceive, Neurobiology groups them under the chemical senses (18). They are also strongly interrelated and directly connected to some basic needs of the human being, including sexual behavior and certain forms of memory. (19)

The sense of taste, together with sight, is part of the hotel product since the first hotels were created, because together with lodging they offered food and drink to the tired and hungry travelers. The importance of this sense for achieving the satisfaction and comfort of the guest is so high that there is a specialized department to care for the sensorialization of taste in a hotel product, Food and Beverage, through which many hotels have become world famous.

Knowing the taste preferences of guests (what they like to eat and drink) influences on the general perception of their stay, because it helps making them feel acknowledged and important.

The sense of smell is of no less importance, for humans cannot live without it. The olfactory system catches the molecules in the air to supply information to the brain about one´s own odors and those from the environment including other individuals. These records determine not only our behavior in selecting food, but also who we choose to relate with, as well as our sexual behavior. (20)

However, the sense of smell can be seen as the New World to be conquered in the hotel industry, because attention has just recently been paid to it as an activator of personal recollections. Until recently, hotels used to present their products and related services attractive to sight, taste, touch and hearing, and they concentrated their efforts in the colors, shapes, textures, flavors and even melodies to complete their final product. Smells were considered as something natural, as part of the matter (product) or the environment, and not as another constituent of the proposal of the brand that can be controlled depending on what you want to transmit.

The olfactory sensorialization of the hotel product and related services becomes a great challenge, because one has to create products and services that would smell in a certain way to make an imprint on the guest´s mind. The use of specific aromas in every area of the hotel, public areas or rooms, will make it possible to induce certain emotional states in the guests to reach the intended satisfaction.

Examples of this are the aromatherapy used in pillows which provokes the state of relaxation necessary to get a balmy sleep; the bath salts and oils used in the preparation of plunge baths or in massages, all of which get through the limbic lobe of the guest and his/her emotional memory creating an indivisible triad of smells, memories and emotions.

2- The resulting perception and decision-making

In carrying out their line activities, hotels must be capable of designing and managing the processes involved in the sensorialization of their product and related services, namely, understanding, conquering and preserving the guest. To do this, hotels must have control over the factors that affect the guest´s decisions in terms of choice, consumption and promotion of the products and services offered. Besides, we must also consider that the stimuli used must be attractive enough to be captured by the guest, and also that there should be a match between the stimuli and the nature of the hotel.

At the physiological level, if a stimulus (whatever its nature) is perceived as unpleasant, the insula (the part of the cortex that interprets displeasure) send information to the brain, where specific recollections are evoked. This can make a person leave a place or stay there for a long time due to something that is not registered in the conscious mind.

If the stimulus is perceived as pleasant, it will generate pleasure and activate the area of the accumbens nucleus in the brain, thus influencing the behavior of the guest to approach the product or stay in the place where the given service is provided.

In short, depending on the interpretation of a stimulus, the circuits of pleasure or displeasure will be activated, thus influencing the guest´s behavior in terms of attraction or dislike towards a given product or service.


The use of the senses in managing the emotions of the guest in making his/her decisions, and in the creation of new feelings or stressing the existing ones, can enhance the attractiveness of a product and its related services.

Full knowledge of each of the senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste and tact) and of the reaction of a guest to external stimuli, will allow the hotel to understand the emotional behavior of the guest and make the corresponding diagnosis in order to establish the differentiating strategic planning of the company in the market.

The efforts in developing the sensory features of the hotel product and its related services are focused on the search of the emotional connection with guests, considering that their feelings and emotions condition their decision-making. This sensory approach, including the stimulation of one or the five senses, makes it possible to get to the guest through sensory experiences that influence the establishment of long-term relations between him/her and the hotel/company.

This management decision to develop the hotel product and services at a multi-sensory level, will depend on improving the value of experiences from the generation of meanings in the mind of the guests.

In summary, we can say that the full knowledge of the function of each of the senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste and tact) and of the reaction of a guest to external stimuli, will allow the hotel to understand the emotional behavior of the guest and make the corresponding diagnosis in order to establish the differentiating strategic planning of the company in the market.


(1) Hitt, Black, and Porter, 2006.

(2) Alfaro, 2010

(3) Segura and Sabaté,2008

(4) Holzhey, Kants Erfahrungsbegriff, p. 244.

(5) Neuromanagement. Nestor Braidot.p.111.

(6) Alvarez del Blanco, 2011

(7) Morrin, 2010, in Krishma, 2010).

(6) Neuromarketing en acción. Nestor Braidot p.119.

(8) R, Brandler and J.Grinder, La estructura de la Magia. p. 33

(9) Neuromanagement, Nestor Braidot p. 142.

(10) Neuromanagement, Nestor Braidot p. 148.

(11) Eva Heller. Psicología del color, como actúan los colores sobre los sentimientos y la razón. 2008.

(12) Neuromanagement. Nestor Braidot p. 156.

(13) Guyton and Hall, Tratado de fisiología médica, Chapter 52.

(14) Dale Carniage. How to make friends and influence people.

(15) Underhill, 1998, p. 158.

(16) Neuromanagement, Nestor Braidot p.166.

(17) Klatzky and Lederman 1992, 1993

(18) Purves D. et al. Invitación a la Neurociencia. Editorial Médica Panamericana, Madrid, 2001.

(19) Bear, Connors & Paradiso, 1996

(20) Neuromanagement, Nestor Braidot, p.175.

Osvaldo Torres Cruz

Experiential Hospitality Consultancy

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