The worst hotel experiences can be caused by an insect smaller than a fingernail clipping.
Take the physician who was working in a hotel room during a business trip when he noticed a bug on his arm. An inspection turned up about 30 more in the room, he said. The doctor had discovered the scourge of the hotel: bedbugs.
“It turned me into a complete paranoid hotel dweller,” said the physician, who travels nearly weekly for work. “I wake up in the night thinking every little itch is a bedbug.”
The tiny, biting bugs are causing headaches for hotel owners who not only have to figure out how to get rid of them, but also now have to respond to online accusations of bedbug infestations.
In an age of online reviews and social media, what was a quietly simmering issue has become a potentially toxic problem for hotels.
After Kyrie Irving, the star point guard for the Cleveland Cavaliers, complained about bedbugs at a hotel, Twitter exploded with messages of disgust. Hilton responded with a public apologyto Mr. Irving.
In addition to complaining about bedbugs on Twitter and sites like TripAdvisor and Expedia, travelers use more specific sites like the Bedbug Registry (which was founded by a computer programmer “as a way of getting vengeance against bedbugs after a traumatic experience in a San Francisco hotel”).
Those complaints may or may not be accurate. Two-thirds of travelers surveyed last year couldn’t identify a bedbug.
Correct or not, those complaints have high stakes for hotels. A survey of nearly 2,100 travelers in the United States found that a single recent review that mentions bedbugs lowers hotel room values by $38 for business travelers and $23 for leisure travelers.
It’s kind of a wake-up call to the hotels. There really is a big impact on purchasing decisions.
Many travelers even note a lack of bedbugs in their reviews. One person titled a November TripAdvisor review of the Hilton Garden Inn Times Square “A room in NY without bed bugs!”
Even when hotels figure out how to kill off an infestation, owners must remain vigilant.
“You’ve got people coming from all over the world and they bring in these bugs,” said Bob Ernstoff, who owns the Mayfair New York hotel near Times Square. “It’s a very tough topic. You can’t stop people from traveling.”
Several hotel chains referred calls to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, which provides members with information on how to deal with bedbug infestations. Many hotels have developed response plans to manage the pests quickly.
There is no national data on bedbug complaints at hotels, but exterminators around the country report a growing problem. In Houston, Phoenix and St. Louis, for example, exterminators have reported recent increases in bedbug infestations, many of them in hotels.
And nearly two-thirds of exterminators in the United States polled last year said bedbug complaints were increasing.
“We went from two to three bedbug jobs a week two years ago to 15 to 20 a week now,” said an exterminator.
About one-third of those calls are from hotels. Too many hotels try to get rid of the bugs on their own by throwing away furniture and linens or by spraying ineffective chemicals. The insects just retreat into the walls and soon return.
When hotels do call in professionals for help, it is often a covert operation.
Discretion is probably one of the most important things said an exterminator who said hotel calls have increased steadily over the last three years.
Bedbug-sniffing dogs are being used more often in hotels, as are preventive measures near hotel beds and bedbug monitors in the rooms, often behind headboards where the insects congregate.
There are measures travelers can take, too.
Experts suggest that travelers check hotel beds thoroughly before sleeping and that they keep luggage in the bathtub to prevent the bugs from coming home with them. And storing luggage in plastic bags between trips can prevent travelers with home infestations from bringing bedbugs with them to a hotel.
When bedbugs are spotted in a room, it is important for hotels to respond quickly and sympathetically. Denying the problem can generate negative online reviews.
Hotels need to do a better job training housekeeping staffs to identify and prevent bedbugs. And staff members should play a part by moving the beds from the wall when cleaning.
In some cases, though, a bedbug encounter leads hotel guests themselves to become more fastidious travelers.