As bed bug infestations continue to increase across the country, traveler concern over staying at an affected hotel is also growing.
No doubt, spending the night in an infested bed can lead to some unpleasant after effects. Just ask Brazilian model Sabrina Jales St. Pierre, who is suing the Palm Desert Embassy Suites, near Palm Springs, California, after allegedly being “massacred” by bed bugs during her stay two years ago.
While some travelers may worry about enduring a similar experience, in reality, it is hoteliers who are losing sleep over the pesky parasites.
According to the study, “Behind the Cost of Bed Bugs: Hospitality Industry Report,” released last year by pest specialists Orkin Pest Control, hotels spend an average of $6,383 per bed bug incident. The number, which includes replacing soft goods, treatment and lost business, means each bed bug outbreak equals about 50 lost room nights (when using the nationwide ADR.)
Factor in litigation costs and hoteliers are looking at more than $23,000. Per incident.
Since each hotel faces an average of 7.1 bedbug incidences over a five-year period, according to the study, the cost to hoteliers could catapult to more than $160,000.
Litigation is a serious concern for hoteliers. According to the study, at least 45 percent of hotels have faced some form of legal action over bed bugs, with one in five properties experiencing litigation in the past year.
The top concern, however, is a fear of negative word of mouth and reputation damage. That fear is valid one, according to a separate 2015 study by the University of Kentucky.
The University of Kentucky research found that the mention of bed bugs in recent traveler reviews can lower the average per-night value of a hotel room by $38 for business travelers and $23 for leisure travelers.)
While it might be easy to envision dirty, seamy motels as the most likely candidate for an outbreak, that’s just not the case. All a bed bug really needs to prosper is a food source—human blood—and they can get that almost anywhere.
“Anywhere that people spend a lot of time is a potential point for bed bugs to be,” entomologist Chelle Hartzer, BCE, Manager of Technical Services for Orkin told TravelPulse.com. “Places like hospitals, day care centers, even office buildings are possible spots that bed bug could be found.”
Late last year, even the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport suffered an outbreak.
The increased number of bed bug infestations might also seem to suggest that hoteliers are being remiss in their maintenance efforts, but that’s also not true. According to the Orkin study, 98 percent of hotels have at least one ongoing bed bug prevention program.
Additional research shows that 82 percent of hotels in the United States have treated for bed bugs in the past year. Forty percent of all hotels have undergone treatment in the past month.
As the hospitality industry continues to seek out ways to provide their guests with some peace of mind, the exploding pest control industry—which is expected to reach $10 billion in service revenue by 2020—is also seeking out new solutions.
Orkin, which works closely with hoteliers, introduced Orkin Bed Bug ProAct, a ground-breaking proactive service developed specifically for the hospitality industry which blends treatment, regular inspections and staff training. Orkin cites the Pelican Pointe Hotel & Resort in Clearwater, Florida as a success study. After utilizing the service, the resort reduced the number of rooms impacted by bed bugs from five to zero.
Bed Bugs Make a Comeback
The widespread re-appearance of bed bugs is a curious case for an insect that had all but disappeared by the 1950s. By the 1990s, bed bugs were back with a vengeance, with the travel industry at least partially responsible for their return.
“Over the last few decades, people have traveled more and farther, especially internationally,” said Hartzer. “That helped spread bed bugs.”
While bed bugs can exist anywhere where there are people, Baltimore has earned the dubious honor of being the city with the most outbreaks according to Orkin’s list of top cities for bed bugs. Washington D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles and Columbus Ohio, round out the list’s top five slots.
Being bitten by bed bugs can be unpleasant—it can cause itchy red welts—but fortunately, bed bugs are not known to transmit any diseases, according to Hartzer.
“Many people actually have no reaction at all,” she said.
The more pressing concern, however, is taking the insects home with you and spreading the problem. To avoid carrying home these unwanted hitchhikers, Orkin recommends a five-step action plan with the acronym S.L.E.E.P.
—Survey: Take a look around your hotel room for signs of an infestation. Large infestations can create a musty, sweet odor, like soda pop syrup, and they can leave brown or red spots on sheets.
—Lift and Look: During the day, the nocturnal insects disappear into hiding spots such as mattress crevices, box springs, upholstery and even behind baseboards, pictures and even torn wallpaper. Be sure to look at all possible hiding spots, not just the mattress.
—Elevate: After you carefully inspect the hotel’s luggage rack, use it to use it to keep your suitcase off the bed and the floor. Also pull the luggage rack away from the wall, so the insects have less opportunity to crawl up a wall and get into your things.
—Examine: Examine your luggage while repacking and again when you return home. (Orkin recommends unpacking in your garage or utility room, so you avoid bringing bed bugs inside your house.)
—Place: To be extra safe, place all clothing from your luggage immediately in the dryer for at least 15 minutes at the highest setting upon returning home from travel.
Bed bugs are extremely difficult to eliminate, and even one hiding in your luggage can quickly reproduce into thousands. Home remedies are largely ineffective, which means an infestation will need the assistance of a pest control professional trained specifically in treating bed bugs, which can quickly tack thousands of extra dollars onto your vacation budget.
Ultimately, however, while bed bugs are worth looking out for, they aren’t worth canceling your vacation plans. You’re as likely to encounter them at the local cinema as you are at that vacation retreat you’ve been planning for months