Hailstones, Halibut, and Your Hotel

Understanding why color is such a powerful force in our lives

By Bonnie Knutson Professor, The School of Hospitality Business/MSU | October 21, 2012

When our two daughters and four grandkids were little, not to mention numerous nieces, nephews, and other assorted little ones, they used to love crawling up on my lap and having me read one of my favorite books to them: Hailstones and Halibut Bones by Mary O'Neill (1961). The book's subtitle is rightfully called an Adventure in Color because it is a renowned collection of poetry about the colors of the spectrum. Reading each, colors come alive. You can hear them, taste them, touch them, smell them, as well as see them.

Color is one of those elements in our lives about which we think little – unless we are trying to buy a sweater to match a particular pair of slacks, or unless we are trying to choose a paint tint from the thousands of chips available at our favorite home improvement store, or unless we are working with a designer and/or architect on a renovation. Color is usually just "there" – in our background. But color is more than just "there" when it comes to hotels and how it can prompt guest behavior. I once read that, like death and taxes, there is no escaping color. It is ubiquitous. I agree.

To better understand why color is such a powerful force in our lives, it will help to remember just what color is. In 1666, Sir Isaac Newton (that ol' famous English scientist) discovered that, when pure white light passes through a prism, it separates into all the visible colors. He then found that each color is comprised of a single wavelength and cannot be further separated into other colors. Additional experiments showed that light could, however, be combined to form other colors – i.e. red light mixed with yellow light creates an orange color. Thus, we got the color wheel with its three primary and three secondary colors.
Artists, designers, and retailers have long realized the importance of color psychology to marketing. They know that color can dramatically affect moods, feelings, emotions and the perception of time. It is a powerful tool to communicate and persuade. It can even affect brand image. Think about IBM Blue, Coca Cola Red, Victoria Secret's Pink, or Bloomingdale's Brown Bag. Even a woman's LBD (that's Little Black Dress) carries a certain image.

Hoteliers have to be skilled in the art of persuasion. While there are many factors that influence how and what guests and prospective guests will do, visual cues can be a strong motivator. And color can be a very strong motivator. So when renovating, remodeling, or rebuilding your property, understanding the role that color can play in the outcome is critical to facility planning and to marketing.

A caveat here: How a guest feels about a particular color can be deeply personal and often rooted in his/her own experience. For example, I don't like to be in a blue environment because every room in my childhood home was painted a shade of blue and had a blue tile floor or blue carpet. Even the garage walls and floor were painted tones of blue. By age ten, I had had my fill of blue!

Colors also have different meanings in different cultures. While white is used in many Western countries to represent purity and innocence, it is seen as a symbol of mourning in many Eastern nations.

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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

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