Pest management can be a sensitive issue for hoteliers, but if handled properly, there’s no reason it should damage a hotel’s reputation by spurring poor reviews online.
REPORT FROM THE U.S—A single online report of a bed bug would cause 60% of hotel guests not to book with that hotel, according to findings from a University of Kentucky report.
It doesn’t even matter much whether or not the bed bug report is valid or confirmed, said Michael Potter, entomologist at the University of Kentucky and co-author of “Bed bugs and hotels: Travelers insights and implications for the industry.” He added, though, that the unverified report could still cause major damage to a hotel’s reputation.
“We didn’t do this study to try to stick it to the hospitality industry. I work with the hospitality industry; I work with the pest control industry … but this isn’t one of those problems where you can stick your head in the sand,” he said. “… the most troubling finding … from the perspective of the hospitality industry, is the impact of these online reports and the damage of reputation that can occur.”
Potter suggests hoteliers should be proactive with pest management by training employees to look for signs of bed bugs. If possible, he said, they should have a pest-control provider come in once or twice a year to do a thorough bed-bug inspection in every room.
It’s important, he said, to catch these problems early.
“Of course, housekeepers are doing 50 different things, and they’re having to move from room to room, so they don’t really have a lot of time to do deep inspections to find these things,” he said. “But certainly, (there should be) a (bed check) when they’re pulling the sheets off of the bed, looking at the seams of the mattress and trying to see if there’s anything obvious there. Sometimes you’ll see evidence in those places, but other times, it can be a lot more cryptic, so you sometimes have to dig deeper.”
Since bed bugs are usually found in places that aren’t easily accessible, such as behind the headboard, Potter said it’s also a good idea to have the hotel’s engineering team come in every so often to flip the beds and remove the headboards from the wall.
Controlling pests from the ground up
More than just treating an existing problem, proper pest management is about prevention, sources said.
Some companies are treating for potential pests as their new hotels are being built.
“From preventative programming, we’re in the process right now of building two hotels, and what we’ll do is we’ll get engaged with our vendor during the whole construction phase of the hotel being built,” said Vince Barrett, VP of food and beverage at New Castle Hotels & Resorts. “We’ll actually treat the building as it’s being built so that from a long-term perspective we don’t have issues with spiders, ants, roaches and that type of thing.”
The hotel’s framework will be treated by a pest-management provider before insulation and sheet rock go up, which creates a barrier, making it harder for bugs to get inside the building, Barrett said.
“As we get closer to the opening of the hotel, (pest control) is still working right along with us, so they’ll go from the outside of the building to the inside. Then as carpet and things like that come in, they’ll do another treatment,” he said. “Once the hotel is up and running, it’s really kind of a check and preventative maintenance going forward. It really minimizes the incidents we end up having.”
In terms of bed-bug prevention, Barrett said New Castle properties undergo treatment within a year.
“We rotate one-sixth of our inventory every month and all those rooms get treated,” he said. “So basically within a year’s period, the entire hotel has been treated.”
When to treat hotels
The best time to do preventative pest treatment is when it first starts to get warmer, said Scott Warner, VP of operations at Peachtree Hotel Group.
“As we head into this time of year, especially in the first part of May as things start to warm up, we work with all of our hotels through local … (or national) providers. … We have all of our hotels treated at the first part of May, and then after that, it’s once every three months,” he said. “We try to hit it in May, July, September, to kind of minimize the (impact) and the amount of intrusions.”
Warner added that Peachtree employees monitor guest-review channels to make sure each property is up to par with its pest-prevention tactics, and also walk through hotels to make sure there’s nothing crawling around in the guestrooms.
“GMs walk at least five rooms a day, chief engineer 10 to 15, and of course, our executive housekeeper … can then walk all inspected rooms just to make sure we don’t have any issues going on,” he said.
Warner said the best time to do an in-room inspection is earlier in the week when occupancy is lower.
“Typically Monday morning is the best time …,” he said. “Tuesday, Wednesday (and) Thursdays are not the most opportune times to do anything with a vendor in the hotel … because the rooms are fully occupied. We definitely try to hit (the rooms) when there are (more) empty (rooms). That way, we can come in even quicker and be a lot more thorough.”
Handling pest reports from guests
What should hoteliers do if a guest calls the front desk to report a bed bug? Be sympathetic, Potter said.
“Treating these reports with empathy and concern and trying very hard to move the person to another room (is important),” he said. “There’s a whole layer of possibilities in terms of laundering their clothes for them; if they have a pest control company that does heat treatments, they can heat treat their suitcase and their belongings ….” he said. “The last thing you want to do is basically say, ‘we don’t have any bed bugs; you brought them in and it’s your problem.’ That sounds kind of ridiculous, but I’ve actually stayed in hotels where that’s been their attitude.”
The next step, Potter said, is to bring in a pest-management professional.
“Rapidly get your pest-control provider involved to thoroughly inspect that room and try to get in as quickly as possible. Try to get in to inspect the rooms around it because sometimes the problem is actually next door or across the hallway from the one that actually had the report,” he said.
And to be on the safe side, hoteliers should avoid trying to turn around the infested room as quickly as they can for another guest, Potter said.
“There’s a tendency or desire for hotels to want to turn those rooms as quick as they can once they do have an issue, and that’s understandable, but they really need to have the pest-control company come back once or twice, depending on how they do the treatment,” he said. “(Try to) to take that room out of service long enough to have a degree of confidence that they’ve resolved the problem.”