PEST CONTROL: Costly Critters

How much does it cost to host a hotel guest? That’s a question hoteliers frequently ask themselves as they evaluate their rates and budgets. But what about unexpected guests? How much will those unwanted guests that every hotelier fears will check in unexpectedly cost—especially when they aren’t in the budget? Yes, we’re talking about bed bugs. Like it or not, a hotel’s door is always open to them and they may pop in for an extended stay at any moment.

Bed bugs are “hitchhikers,” meaning they get inside of people’s luggage and are unexpectedly transported from one place to the next. So, a hotel is only as safe as the next day’s guest. Despite your best efforts, a guest may unexpectedly bring bed bugs into your hotel on any given day.

Likewise, your own workers can transport them to your hotel without knowing it. If they have bed bugs at home, there’s always a chance they’ll unknowingly bring them to work as well.

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No matter how they get there, you can expect a significant dent in your wallet as you try to get rid of them—unless you know what to do and act on that knowledge quickly.

Once bed bugs enter a property, they are extremely harder to get rid of the longer the problem is left unattended. The bigger the infestation, the more the cost involved for eradication.

“[The cost] varies with the situation, in particular how long the problem has been neglected,” says Michael Potter, an entomologist at the University of Kentucky and one of the world’s foremost authorities on bed bugs. “If you have a really low level of infestation that is caught early, it’s a lot easier to get rid of them largely because they tend to be more confined to the sleeping area. As these infestations are neglected or not reported, they increase in size and sometimes disperse outward to the couch, the carpet, the drapes, even to other rooms. Your chances of a guest finding them increase.”

Potter says that it is virtually impossible to prevent bed bugs from coming into your facility because of their nature and because of the way they easily get transported. That leaves early detection as your best defense. “Catching it early is the key, because that will influence how easy and how costly it will be to rid of them,” he says.

Bed bugs can be eradicated quickly through heat treatments, Potter says, sometimes within 48 hours. However, heat treatments can be pricey. “With low level infestations, even with conventional treatment such as liquids and casings, you can eliminate them pretty quickly, but when the problem builds that’s when you really start to have problems,” he says.

That’s why hotel companies are working to develop their own plans to dictate how employees will regularly check for bed bugs. By knowing how to set up an inspection regimen, hotels can help themselves catch infestations early, thereby keeping their costs down. Potter says hotels can’t expect to rely only on their pest control company to find problems. “You cannot pay a pest control company enough money frequently enough to simply rely on that,” he says. “You have to train your staff to do ongoing inspections in addition to getting help from pest control companies.”

And, you’ll need to look closely, because bed bugs are hard to find. Potter says that there is really no straight answer when it comes to finding bed bugs. “The reason it is so hard is that they are hard to find. They can hide in the tiniest of locations. It’s like hunting a needle in a haystack,” he says. 

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to prevent and eradicate the problem. “Short of strip-searching every guest and employee who enters the hotel, there’s no way to stop these things,” Potter says. “In the meantime, you’ll have to learn how to train your employees, know what to look for, and try to catch these problems early.”