In the US, the hotel sector is a US$176 billion a year industry catering for 5 million people each night in about 5 million guest rooms in 53,000 properties.
Maintaining a good reputation is one of the most important factors for hotel businesses. One negative experience by a guest, whether true or false, can be spread around social media and news outlets in an instant and result in reduced numbers of customers for years.
Bed bugs have been increasing over the past two decades. Fifteen years ago only 25% of pest management professionals reported treating customer premises for bed bugs, while in 2015 99.6% of respondents in the biennial Bugs Without Borders survey of pest professionals in the US had treated for bed bugs. It found that hotels and motels were among the top three places where they treated for bed bugs (after apartments and single-family homes), with 75% of pest management professionals having encountered them there.
Survey of public attitudes
Researchers from the University of Kentucky conducted a survey of both business and leisure travellers on their knowledge, experience and opinions of bed bugs in hotels (1). The results were presented at the International Conference on Urban Pests in July 2017 and some significant findings are highlighted here.
Ability to identify a bed bug
Survey respondents were shown enlarged silhouettes of an ant, termite, louse, bed bug and tick and asked to identify the bed bug. Only 30% could identify a bed bug correctly, 37% admitted that they did not know which was the bed bug and the rest chose the wrong silhouette.
This means 70% of those surveyed could not identify a bed bug and consequently shows that hotel customers could complain about bed bugs when they had seen another insect. There have been reports about hotel guests wrongly identifying bed bugs and posting complaints on social media.
Reaction to online reviews mentioning bed bugs
Online reviews are one of the most important factors that travellers consider when choosing a hotel for business or leisure. So, knowing the reactions of travellers to reports is an important guideline for prioritising policies for dealing with the reviews.
In 2013, a hotel in Canada sued a guest for lost profits and damages after he posted a negative review on TripAdvisor following an encounter with bed bugs. Even if the hotel won compensation, the story about the case and the review the guest posted are still out there for anyone to read on several media outlets, continuing to affect the hotel’s reputation and income years later.
The University of Kentucky survey asked respondents what they would do if they came across one mention of bed bugs in an online review of a hotel. 56% said they would be very unlikely to choose that hotel, while 12% said their first course of action would be to not choose any hotel with that brand and 33% said it would be their second course of action!
For a large company with multiple hotels, just one property having bed bugs can result in every other hotel being infected with a bad reputation for bed bugs!
Reaction to finding a bed bug in the hotel
When asked to compare several room issues and how they would deal with them, respondents said that when they stayed in a hotel room the most important factors that they checked on arrival were a clean bathroom, the absence of bad odour in the room and clean sheets and towels. Only 34% said that they checked for bedbugs, which may be an indication of their lack of experience with or awareness of bed bugs.
However, if they encountered bed bugs in a hotel room, 60% said that they would demand to move to another hotel and get a refund. This was over twice as many as said they would move hotel for the next most serious room issue — encountering foreign material such as blood.
When asked directly what they would do on finding a live bed bug, 73% said they would leave the hotel and 38% said they would not stay in any hotel of the same brand in future.
Perhaps the most worrying factor for hotel reputations was that 47% said that they would post about their encounter on social media. Listening to customers is one of the main ways you can minimise pest control expenditure for your hotel by taking the appropriate response.
Expectations of disclosure
Respondents were asked whether hotels should disclose if they had had bed bugs in the past. 80% said that hotels should be required to inform guests and 72% of these said that hotels should disclose bed bug occurrences up to one year previously, with the remainder wanting disclosure of any occurrence ever.
Considering the earlier responses that travellers would avoid hotels and even hotel brands on learning that bed bugs had been present previously, it is important to develop a suitable policy to manage the response to bed bugs, both online and in-house.
How to manage bed bugs
It is not possible to prevent bed bugs being brought into a hotel because they are mainly brought in by guests. They can also be brought in by staff and contractors and in products such as laundry and secondhand furniture. It is, however, possible to prevent them spreading from the initial site by implementing good management practices.
The best strategy is to implement suitable measures to prevent an infestation taking hold:
- good maintenance practices to reduce hiding places
- use bed bug traps to help detect their presence
- train your staff how to identify common signs of bed bugs
- include thorough checking for bed bugs in your room cleaning processes
- when discovered, inspect adjacent rooms — next door, above and below — to identify if the bed bugs have spread
- have an effective policy to get rid of bed bugs
- have a procedure in place for handling bed bug complaints by current guests or online, and taking quick action to maintain your reputation
Integrated pest management
Bed bugs are difficult to eliminate because of their life cycle and habits, so there is a need for an integrated approach to eliminate them economically and with minimal danger to people, property, and the environment.
Integrated pest management involves establishing a system of:
- inspection, identification and quantification
- implementing control measures
- monitoring the effectiveness of controls
The simplest way to remove visible bed bugs is by using a vacuum cleaner with HEPA filter to contain fine particles that could be allergenic. This will remove a large part of the population but further action will be needed to eliminate all of them.
Bed bugs cannot chew through the material because their mouthparts designed to suck blood, so sealing holes and cracks, sealing items in plastic bags, or mattresses in encasements will prevent them from moving in or out.
Bed bugs are sensitive to extremes of temperature so can be eliminated by exposing them to a critical temperature for a specified time — when their body reaches 55°C there is irreversible damage. They are also killed by freezing at temperatures below -13°C, but this takes several days.
Rentokil’s Entotherm service heats whole rooms or individual objects to between 56° and 60°C for several hours to kill bed bugs effectively — and other insects such as cockroaches too.
- Potter, MF, et al. Bed bugs, hotels and travellers: attitudes and implications. In Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Urban Pests 2017