Ah, the scent of travel.
There are many types of souvenirs to buy on vacation. But for Kimberly Waters, it’s all about the perfume. An earthy vetiver scent she bought in Cuba still makes her reminisce about dancing down cobblestone streets with friends. A Grenadian bay leaf fragrance reminds her of the island’s lush plants and flavorful food. When she sniffs the amber notes of Midnight Call by Les Soeurs De Noe, she remembers purchasing it on a summer trip to Greece. Waters, who is the founder of curated fragrance company Muse (Modern Urban Sensory Experiences), which she describes as “art gallery meets fragrance,” sees scents as having a direct connection to places and experiences—hence her inclination to add to her collection on trips.
“The scent becomes tangible,” she explains, “allowing you to relive the moments, recall the landscapes, and revive the emotions associated with that specific place. It’s a way for individuals to carry a piece of their favorite destinations with them.”
Whether it’s a vetiver perfume acquired in Cuba or a bay aroma from Grenada, there’s no denying that scents are heavily linked to how we make connections to everything we’ve seen or done. A 2021 study highlighted how the brain’s hippocampus (the memory hub) works with our olfactory system.
It comes as no surprise, then, that many hotels have taken note of the feeling that scents can evoke and come up with their own custom fragrances. Take the Le Sirenuse hotel in Positano, which created its Eau d’Italie signature scent in the wake of a canceled 50th anniversary celebration. The scene of the Amalfi Coast typically brings visions of lavender, citrus, and an ocean breeze to mind, but “we didn’t want to be obvious in our way of portraying Le Sirenuse in a fragrance,” says Eau d’Italie Fragrances co-founder, Sebastián Alvarez Murena.
More than two years of development later, the resulting scent—which Murena says is meant to embody “the sensations experienced on the terrace of Le Sirenuse”—certainly has a sea-salted breeze, but also some less expected notes that truly make it a signature for guests who’ve visited the nearly-hundred-year-old property. Lemon, black currant, and sea salt highlight the airy freshness of the Amalfi Coast, while terracotta and frankincense call attention to the hotel’s handmade tiles and the church that sits below the property. People have responded well to the fragrance, which has expanded to an entire line of scented diffusers and body lotion, with bottles designed to mimic the colorful homes of Positano.
Still, while the packaging is appealing, Morena says, “More than images, more than any other thing, fragrances take us directly to a place, moment, to a person.” When guests purchase Eau d’Italie, they’re transported back to the sun-drenched Sirenuse with every whiff.
Another hotel that’s bought into the power of scent, the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club in Bermuda recently debuted its first custom fragrance, Island Rose. The property collaborated with master perfumer and founder of Lili Bermuda Isabelle Ramsay-Brackstone on a scent that centers on the Harkness Rose, a pink flower that perfectly matches the exterior of the hotel and blooms on property. Ramsay-Brackstone says it’s the island’s climate that gives the scent something specific to Bermuda.
“Flowers here have the ability to diffuse their perfume in the most wonderful way, with no competing pollution, in the middle of the ocean where our climate is never too hot or too cold,” she says. “We also receive quite a lot of rain, and with the constant presence of the ocean breeze, our botanicals are constantly treated with the best conditions.” The Harkness rose has a fruity element with notes of citrus, perfect for reminding guests of their stay.
But it’s not just hotels that are capturing the feeling of a place with a scent. Fragrance brands like St Johns Bay Rum have gone all in on the idea, with St Johns Bay Rum in particular focusing on bottling the essence of St. John. “Fragrance is all about reimagining a wonderful experience or emotion,” says President and CEO Rhys Moore. “It takes you back to that moment.”
The foundation of all the brand’s fragrances, including its original titular fragrance, is the distinctive spicy aroma of bay oil, derived from the bay leaf trees that grow abundantly on the island. Other St Johns Bay Rum fragrances focus on capturing different facets of St. John. Vetiver, for example, captures the sweet grasses of the Caribbean along with citrus fruits and spices.
But beyond simply serving as a souvenir, purchasing a perfume that’s inspired by a destination is also a great way to experience it from afar—even if you buy it from afar, too.
No one knows this better than Demeter’s CEO and chief perfumer, Mark Crames. Demeter first launched in 1996 and its initial scents were hyper-specific—think dirt, grass, even tomato. But the introduction of the Destination collection in 2014 saw immediate success, with customers craving best sellers like Cuba, Ireland, and Morocco. New Zealand, which has notes of plant leaves, bark, grass, snow, ocean, and stone, is the most popular.
“People want me to recreate an experience of a place for which they already have fond and powerful memories,” says Crames.
In spite of tightening budgets, the demand for perfume samplers, body mists, and roll-on fragrances has seen a major increase in popularity, and Crames has certainly noticed the effect on his own sales.
“When times are harder, people want some small joys,” he says. “We try to be that for them.”