It’s no secret that bed bugs have made a significant comeback in the United States in the last decade and have affected people and industries across the country. However, no industry has been more affected than the lodging industry, as news stories about people finding bed bugs in hotels and websites warning travelers about bed bug infested hotels abound.
A July 2010 survey conducted by the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) and the University of Kentucky found that a whopping 95 percent of U.S. pest management professionals encountered a bed bug infestation in the past year. However, prior to 2000, only 25 percent of U.S. survey respondents had encountered a bed bug infestation. The same survey found that 67 percent of pest management professionals treated bed bug infestations in hotels and motels. Additionally, a consumer study conducted by NPMA in November 2010 found that one in five Americans have had an infestation or know someone who has encountered bed bugs at home or in a hotel and nearly 80 percent of Americans are most concerned about encountering bed bugs at hotels.
Those numbers, while worrisome, represent an opportunity for the lodging industry to attack the bed bug problem head on. As bed bug infestations in hotels tend to be isolated incidents, typically brought into the room unknowingly by a guest or by members of the staff, the infestations typically are not indicative of a hotel-wide problem.
One of the first and best lines of defense in a lodging establishment is the housekeeping staff. Those staff members are inside guestrooms each day, changing the sheets, vacuuming, dusting, and performing other cleaning duties that put them in close proximity with various bed bug hiding places, from the obvious (the bed) to the obscure (electrical sockets). Because of this, it is imperative that hotel managers educate their staff about bed bug prevention and detection tips as they can often alert the management before the infestation gets worse.
Here are 10 bed bug facts every hotel housekeeper should know:
1. Bed bugs are equal-opportunity pests. Bed bugs have been found at luxury and budget properties. Regardless of how many stars a hotel has, bed bug checks should be part of the regular cleaning routine. Bed bugs are typically brought in by guests, visitors, or even staff.
2. Bed bugs are hitchhikers. Bed bugs like to travel and will hide in suitcases, laptop bags, purses, boxes, and shoes to be near a food supply. They are elusive creatures that prefer dark crevices.
3. Bed bug infestations are common. One out of five Americans has had a bed bug infestation in their home or knows someone who has encountered bed bugs at home or in a hotel.
4. Visual inspections are key. In hotels and motels, the number one hiding place is the backside of headboards, which are mounted on walls. Staff should routinely check around and behind the headboards, the mattress and box springs, upholstery, and walls for small red to reddish brown fecal spots, molt bed bug skins, white, sticky eggs, or empty eggshells and the actual bugs. The bugs resemble a flat apple seed. Staff should also look for signs of bed bugs around electrical switch plates, picture frames, wallpaper, and in furniture crevices. It’s important to note that very heavily infested areas may have a characteristically sweet odor. Housekeepers, while not trained pest professionals, should be given these guidelines as well as photos of bed bugs to assist them while cleaning.
5. Bed bugs go beyond the hotel. Bed bugs have been found in a variety of places besides lodging establishments. Pest professionals have treated infestations in apartments/condos, single-family homes, college dormitories, on various modes of transportation, laundry facilities, in movie theaters, medical facilities, and schools, among others. Housekeeping staff must be vigilant in their own homes as well as other places they visit and take care not to bring bed bugs into the hotel where they work.
6. Bed bugs travel from one room to another. As bed bugs can travel in excess of 100 feet for a blood meal, staff should also be sure to check rooms immediately next to, below, and above the room that has a suspected infestation.
7. Bed bugs don’t like high temperatures. Because bed bugs cannot withstand temperatures higher than 122 degrees Fahrenheit, it is important to launder and dry linens on the highest heat setting. However, while this may take care of one part of the bed bug problem, a pest professional is necessary to completely eliminate the bed bug infestation in the room itself.
8. Bed bugs multiply quickly. Female bed bugs lay one to five eggs per day, or an average of 540 eggs in a lifetime. They typically lay their eggs in cracks or rough surfaces. Bed bug hatchlings are small enough to pass through a stitch-hole in a mattress. Bed bug nymphs grow to full adulthood in about 21 days.
9. Immediate action is necessary. Housekeeping staff must report any suspicion of a bed bug infestation to hotel management immediately so that a pest professional can be brought in as soon as possible. Quick action by staff and pest management can usually stop the infestation before it spreads to other rooms.
10. Constant vigilance is important. An adult bed bug can live for more than a year without a blood meal. Just because an infested room may have been treated, it is important to keep a constant eye out for any signs that the bed bugs have returned. Their elusive nature can sometimes lull people into a false sense of security.
Hoteliers know their establishments’ reputation can risk being tarnished if there is just one guest who believes, whether rightfully or not, that the bed bugs they brought home from their trip came from their particular hotel. Headlines such as, “Waldorf Astoria is haven for bedbugs! Maryland tourist third to sue famed hotel for bloodsucker attack” (New York Daily News, Jan. 7, 2011), give many hoteliers nightmares.
The best way to avoid such headlines and the headaches that ensue is by taking proactive measures. Hoteliers must develop plans for the possibility of an infestation because bed bug infestations are becoming the norm, rather than the exception. But they must also empower their cleaning staff with knowledge to spot infestations before they spread. Competition among hotels is stronger than ever and it takes just one incident to send potential guests to another establishment. Proper training for your housekeeping staff can help deter and quickly control bed bug infestations.
Missy Henriksen is the vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association, a nonprofit organization with more than 7,000 members, which was established in 1933 to support the pest management industry’s commitment to the protection of public health, food and property. For more information about bed bugs and a complete guide to Bed Bug Best Management Practices, please visit AllThingsBedBugs.org.