This Pop-Up Travel Agency Let Visitors Smell 64 Different Places in Europe

Then, Thalys could take them there

Headshot of Angela Natividad

For the last six years, rail company Thalys’ “Welcome to Our World” signature has served as a series of uniquely packaged invitations to encourage people to travel. Two years ago it used sound, with the acoustically driven “Sounds of the City” campaign.

Building on that, this year the French service brings us “Scents of the City,” a whimsical opportunity to explore new (yet train-accessible) cities through your nose.

From May 12-14, French agency Rosapark created a pop-up travel agency in the middle of a Brussels gallery. Using scented beads suspended from the ceiling, visitors were invited to inhale odors from Paris, Amsterdam, Cologne and Brussels.

“After Thalys ‘Sounds of the City’ two years ago, we wanted to continue with the sensorial platform. It’s a unique, ownable platform that allows us to present the destinations on the Thalys network in a unique way,” Jean-François Sacco, co-founder and ECD of Rosapark, tells AdFreak.

“Scents always seemed like a natural follow-up. The only question was, which form would it take? We took the idea in many directions until we came back to one that was simple and obvious—a travel agency.”

Some 752 tubes containing 16 unique fragrances per city were created with help from Drom Fragrances and perfume consultant Elisabeth Carre. Each tube, organized like an olfactory rainbow, was labeled with a number that corresponded to a place on a map. Users could smell buttered tartines in a Parisian café, a pipe for the Magritte Museum, the Cologne Cathedral … or even “Latexxx,” representing Amsterdam’s infamous Sex Museum.

A tablet-equipped hostess helped people book trips live, and provided more insight on the destinations and ideal times to travel.

“2015 and 2016 were tough years for tourism in this part of Europe,” Sacco explains. “The images used in news reports about Thalys cities in 2015, 2016, particularly Brussels and Paris, were hardly positive—terrorism, violence. Using a different sense allows us wipe the slate clean to present the cities in a different light.”

The installation is part of a wider campaign that soft-launched in Paris this year. The accompanying film, above, features a “curious adventurer” who sets out on his own quest to learn more about the scents, bringing viewers on a journey to the heart of each city. It is set against the melody of “Those Dark Eyes,” a Romanian Gypsy song.

The film will appear in theaters in French, Belgian, Dutch and German cities, as well as online via Facebook beginning May 16. PR in Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands will reinforce the work, which kicked off with a special event for journalists and influencers at the “travel agency.”

With “Scents of the City,” Thalys aspires to “take away the fear of travel and replace it with the classic romance of travel,” Sacco says. “Reinvent the images of the cities in the Thalys network, just as we did two years ago with ‘Sounds of the City.’ And continue to present two sides of Thalys cities—both the iconic and the little known.”

Client: Thalys
Agency: Rosapark
Co-founders: Jean-Patrick Chiquiar, Jean-François Sacco, Gilles Fichteberg
Thalys Account Team: Delphine Drutel, Soraya Cottin, Camille Hemet
Executive Creative Director: Jean-François Sacco
Creative Directors: Mark Forgan and Jamie Standen
Art Directors: Mark Forgan and Blanche Depondt
Copywriter: Jamie Standen
TV Production: Adélaïde Samani
Film Production: Birth
Sound Studio: Schmooze

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@luckthelady Angela Natividad is a frequent contributor to Adweek's creativity blog, AdFreak. She is also the author of Generation Creation and co-founder of Hurrah, an esports agency. She lives in Paris and when she isn't writing, she can be found picking food off your plate.