Now you see me, now you don’t! (AKA: is it a bed bug?)
Now you see me, now you don’t!
I travel a lot for work, at least I did before Covid struck. In that time, I found bed bugs in my hotel room twice. Once was on my primary inspection and the second time I found it on my second night in the room. So what happened, did I miss something that second time? There is that chance, but more likely was it wasn’t there the first night and it got in by the second night.
Bed bugs are the bane of the hospitality industry. Consumers are more willing to stay at a business that has bad reviews than they are to stay at a place that has reported to have bed bugs. From a psychology perspective, this makes sense: cockroaches are gross, but bed bugs bite. The stigma of having bed bugs is worse than other pests. Perception is everything. In this case, establishments that have or have had bed bugs are considered dirty, lower class, and “cheap”. This is despite the fact that less expensive hotels/motels are no more likely to have bed bugs than high-end, expensive places. And cleanliness has nothing to do with bed bug presence. They just don’t care!
There’s a big challenge for the hotel industry though: consumers don’t know what a bed bug looks like. A study done in 2017 presented travelers with a line-up of five different “bugs” in black and white. Their verdict: only 35 percent of business travelers and 28 percent of leisure travelers correctly identified the bed bug. The hospitality industry has to deal with their customers finding a “bug” in their room and now pretty much anything they find, from ladybug to fly to cockroach is going to be a bed bug. So a room gets comped, the room gets shut down until a professional can go inspect, and money and reputation is lost.
Even more frustrating is when a customer says “I was bit, see?” I see tons of pictures on social medial, the internet, and ones sent directly to me of these “bites” and asking what it was. Unfortunately, there is no way to tell what bit (or stung) a person unless they actually see what was doing it during the act. There is no tell-tale sign that indicates a bed bug bite. Especially since everyone reacts differently. In fact, one estimate is that 20% of people have absolutely no reaction at all to bed bug bites. Others will turn a little red and itchy, some will welt up, and some may look like a larger rash. It just all depends. This hasn’t stopped litigation from happening and serious money being awarded. It doesn’t stop medical professionals from “diagnosing” bites. This puts the hospitality industry between a rock and a hard place many times.
The situation is not hopeless, there are steps you can take.
1. Confirm what the “bug” is. Ensure that what you are dealing with is a bed bug. Reach out to your pest control company, a university extension agent, or an urban entomologist to get an identification. You will likely have to relocate the guest or resident, but you don’t want to tell them it’s a bed bug until you know for sure.
2. Don’t diagnose “bites”. Ever. Train the staff to read off a script that says, “I can’t diagnose that and if you have concerns, you should see a medical professional.”
3. Close off the area. If it’s a single room, that’s easy enough to pull from the rotation and have guests in other rooms.
4. Call in reinforcements. Unless you perform pest control services in house, call your pest management provider to come to inspect, report, and treat if necessary.
Bed bugs are a reputation (and profit) killer and if you don’t have a plan in place, situations can quickly get out of control. Preventative programs and continuing education for staff members is important to deter bed bug infestations and catch introductions quickly when they occur. If you want to sleep tight, contact us to give your plan could some help or if you want an independent assessment!