Effectiveness of Music in Hospitality

by Ilaria Mangiardi



How can you make public spaces more hospitable under the influence of music? And in what ways can functional music be used to improve the overall customer satisfaction upon the guest’s arrival in a hotel?

That’s what Shubham Lakhani, graduate at Hotelschool The Hague with an MBA in Business Administration, International Hospitality Management, asked himself as part of his quantitative research on measuring the effectiveness of music in hospitality.

The main goal? To measure the subconscious effects of functional music on the guest’s perception of different dimensions in a hotel room, such as decor, odour, lighting conditions, room size and cleanliness.

The amount of power that music holds in different touchpoints of a customer journey – something we already touched upon in this interview with Functional Music Composer Tom Middleton – inspired him to join forces with us.

Thing is, we couldn’t say no to his eagerness to show how music can make a difference in making you feel at home, even when you’re away from home.

We virtually sat down with him and Massive’s very own Brian Barth and Aifric Lennon, respectively Senior Project Manager & Creative Strategic Support, and Senior Account Manager and Research Strategist at MassiveMusic, to check in – pun very intended – on all things music and hospitality.

Ready to make room for some extra knowledge? Keep on reading.

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Why did you decide to focus on this topic for your thesis?

Shubham: My whole life has been influenced by music. All I can say is music rejuvenates my mind and helps me focus and, in turn, it increases my productivity. Additionally, I play the bagpipe, and currently, I am learning the violin.

When I came across MassiveMusic, I was quite intrigued by its purpose: to make brands aware of the power of sound in order to pave a way for brand recall and customer loyalty.

I got in touch with Brian Barth, Aifric Lennon, and Marijn Roozemond and together we decided to focus on the effectiveness of music in hospitality. Not enough research has been conducted in this field and hospitality brands do not invest enough in sound, which is the primary component of the sensory experience.

I was eager to measure the effects of functional music on guests’ perception of a hotel room and, consequently, use the results to improve the customer experience in physical spaces and hotels.

Does scientific evidence prove that music aids in reducing anxiety and stress?

Aifric: Absolutely. Music has long been anecdotally known to lift our mood and connect us, but there is now a growing body of academic research out there demonstrating that the use of purposefully designed music can improve both our physiological and psychological health, by promoting feelings of relaxation as well as lowering blood pressure and heart rate.

Brian: Travel can be a stressful experience, and music is proven to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies. Hotels are often the last stop on a busy travel day, so they are in a unique position to use functional music to help their guests de-stress, unwind and get comfortable.

What insights did you focus on?

Shubham: I used the provided musical tracks that you scientifically composed as a part of your Music x Mind initiative, and worked with Brian and Aifric to align on the most suitable mood and function of the music. I also completed a literature review of existing research in this area. When it comes to experimental research and data analysis, I was supported by my thesis coach and second assessor. I also reached out to a few researchers who conducted similar research in order to remove all the variabilities affecting the end result.

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Did you conduct the research in a specific hotel?

Shubham: Yes! The research was conducted at Skotel, a hotel run by our school Hotelschool The Hague. It has 20 rooms in total, designed by famous hotel chains and independent hotels in Amsterdam. A room was carefully chosen to conduct the experiment due to its minimalistic attributes and natural aura.

The participants were guided to the room one by one and were asked to observe the room with an open mind for approximately 5 minutes. Then, they were asked to fill up a 2-min digital survey while they were in the room.

The survey measured the differences in the overall customer satisfaction by carefully chosen dimensions using an evidence-based approach; decor, cleanliness, odour, lighting conditions, room size, and NPS (Net Promoter Score). The survey did not include any questions about music, as the same survey was given both to the experimental group (35 people who were exposed to music) and the control group (35 people who were not exposed to music).

In total, 70 randomly chosen people participated in the experiment: International Fast Track (IFT), MBA students, lecturers and staff of Hotelschool The Hague.

How did you determine the most important factors that affect the overall guest experience?

Shubham: I decided to divide the dimensions used in the survey by using the Kano Model, which helped me to categorise them into must-be (odour, cleanliness, room size, lighting conditions), one-dimensional (decor) and attractive factors (music).

Different sensory experiences have direct and indirect effects on music and vice versa. Can you elaborate on that?

Brian: We use our senses to build a mental model of the world around us, and sound is a key sense for comprehending the size, material and shape of the spaces we occupy. Adding functional music reveals the acoustic characteristics inherent in any space, so we’re not only using our eyes to determine the size and design of a space, we’re also hearing the characteristics of the space. By having music already playing in the room, we can subtly provide guests with more information about the space.

Aifric: It’s really interesting and exciting to start to consider the power of sound plus other senses. In this case, functional music has positively impacted the visual perception of a hotel room, which reinforces the idea that the combination of audio and visual perception elicits a more intense emotional response than audio or visual in isolation. When you then consider the addition of other senses in this such as scent and haptics, it becomes even more powerful. The more senses we can consider when designing physical spaces and experiences, the more likely you are to leave a lasting impression on the consumer.

How does functional music affect the likelihood that a guest will recommend the room to their friends and family?

Brian: The data shows that when a guest enters a room while functional music is playing, their overall perception of the quality of the decor is significantly increased. This means that playing functional music in a room can be as effective as redecorating or renovating the room, albeit at a much lower cost. This positive perception of the decor, along with any unmeasured positive effects of the functional music on the guest’s mood or mental well-being, is likely the greatest contributor to this increase in NPS.

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How did you gain insights into the best music practices that hotels utilise to increase guest satisfaction?

Shubham: I decided to conduct observations in different hotels in Amsterdam as well as interview the general managers of different hotels, mainly in The Netherlands and the UK. I also did extensive desk research in order to determine what factors are important when it comes to choosing the right kind of music for a hotel or a physical space. This helped me create a conceptual framework that included a step-by-step process for successfully giving life to a musical strategy.

What elements should be considered when designing a hotel room?

Brian: Music in hospitality is an essential expression of your brand. Consider what you want your music to communicate to your guests. For instance, which genres are most resonant with your core demographics? Functional music is also a responsive asset, it can be changed based on the time of day, portion of the guests’ journey, demographic of guest or the purpose of their trip.

How can the hotel make sure that the musical strategy has their customer’s satisfaction at heart?

Brian: I remember when Tom Middleton told us about the hotel group Yotel, where he was hired as Sound Architect. He attempted to remove the anxiety element of the consumers’ journey through music, paying close attention to each touchpoint – from the moment they arrive at the entrance through to the reception all the way to their bedroom door. Focus on what your customers are looking for in your brand and reinforce that through carefully crafted music.

Hospitality brands are in a perfect position to inspire their customers, relax them or even introduce them to the local culture through music. Consider the moment when a guest opens the door to their room. How do you want them to feel?

TLDR Takeaways

A lot can be done with music in order to create customer delight in the physical spaces. The research done by Shubham Lakhani shows why hospitality should invest more in music to increase the guest experience subconsciously.

The quality of the room is a significant factor affecting the price of a hotel room (Zhang et al., 2011). By including functional music in the room, a hotel is able to improve the perception of decor and have a higher NPS.

As a consequence, this can end up having a positive effect on the quality which can lead to customer satisfaction and advocacy. A win-win situation if you ask us.

In conclusion:

  • Guests are 10.20% more likely to have a positive perception of decor under the influence of functional music
  • Guests are 14.04% more likely to recommend the room to their friends or family when exposed to functional music