5 ways to pummel pests at your hotel
11 SEPTEMBER 2015 7:25 AM
High demand in the hotel industry boosts the chances of hoteliers encountering pest issues, which can damage their reputation. Here’s how to be proactive with creepy crawlies and critters.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—A hidden danger of record high demand is more guests walking through the door means a higher chance anything from bed bugs to cockroaches to rats and ants are following right behind.
One of the few things more disconcerting than the pests themselves is the effect they can have on your bottom line.
A recent survey conducted by researchers at the University of Kentucky showed a single online review mentioning a bed bug sighting caused many to immediately write off a hotel. The first reaction of 56% of potential guests will be to no longer consider staying at that property, 7% will shorten their stay and 12% will seek to avoid that hotel’s brand in the future.
The same survey, results of which have not yet been published, showed 60% of guests who spot a bed bug would immediately leave the hotel, which is almost three times as many as those who would leave after finding someone else’s blood somewhere in a guest room.
“It’s a maddeningly difficult problem to deal with,” said Michael Potter, an entomologist at the University of Kentucky and one of the authors of the study. “Everybody is dealing with bed bugs … but hospitality is especially vulnerable because people rely so much on social media when making decisions.”
The potential damage to your hotel’s reputation is only worsened when considering the fact that less than a third of those surveyed could identify successfully a bed bug, with many confusing other pests like lice, ants, termites and ticks for bed bugs.
The harsh reality is there are no 100% infallible methods to keep pests from darkening your doorways, but there are some things to make sure they’re less welcome after arrival.
Here are five ways experts seek to prevent pests.
1. Be proactive
The first step in any successful pest management strategy for a hotelier is adopting the mindset that they must tackle pest problems before they even become evidence. Waiting until you see a bug to start planning a strategy is too late.
Potter, a long-time bed bug expert who has done training programs for hoteliers leading up to high demand events like the World Cup, said there is next to nothing a hotelier can do to keep a guest from walking in with bed bugs in their luggage. And the little they can do wouldn’t be great for business, anyway.
“The hotel is really stuck between a rock and a hard place with this bug,” Potter said. “There’s so much turnover that it’s impossible to do anything without strip searching guests at the door.”
But what a hotelier can do is react quickly to reports from guests—even if those same guests are the ones who brought in the pests.
“If you detect these problems in the earliest stages, you have a much better chance of nipping these things in the bud before they spread or complaints are brought online,” Potter said, noting that pests like bed bugs become more prevalent if it takes longer to detect them and work to remove them.
If a hotelier manages to react quickly to guests’ complaints, they limit the chance of getting similar complaints from others and having a pest problem turn into an epidemic.
2. Training, training, training
What does a housekeeper do if they spot a pest such as a bed bug? What does a front desk employee do if guests complain they saw a mouse scurrying down the hallway?
If you’re asking yourself those questions, you’re already behind the eight ball, Potter said. Your hotel’s employees need to be your first line of defense against pests.
“It’s really crucial that employees are on board,” Potter said. “And it’s more than just showing a housekeeper a picture of a bed and telling them, ‘If you see this, report it.’ In the successful programs I’ve been involved in, you see maintenance popping off bed boards, housekeeping will inspect rooms, and the front desk is trained to know what to do if someone calls at 3 a.m. and says, ‘There’s a bed bug in my room.’ The entire staff of the hotel really needs to be on their game.”
3. Look for pest points of entry
While it might be impossible to keep guests from bringing pests in, it is possible to cut off other entry points.
Don Rivard, a Boston-based pest management consultant who specializes in integrated pest management practices, said that boils down to an attention to even tiny details.
“Boston has a rodent and mice problem,” he said. “They need a quarter of an inch to get in. So if a door isn’t tight, they can get in.”
Rivard said those efforts include inspecting your suppliers to make sure you’re not getting more than you bargained for.
“(Hoteliers) really should have an independent inspection of their vendors,” Rivard said. “The prime food producers throughout the country already do that. They’re checking them out, whether they’re buying some ingredient or working with a pallet manufacturer.”
4. Communicate with professionals
Vince Barrett, VP of food and beverage for New Castle Hotels & Resorts, regularly deals with purchasing as the managing partner of that company’s purchasing arm, Provender, LLC. Barrett said a big part of keeping his company’s properties pest free is working with pest management professions who know how to deal with things before they become a problem.
“We have consultation sessions on a monthly basis,” Barrett said. “We also have silent audits. We make sure we have a redundancy of inspections both internal and external. … We’ve realized the best defense is a really great offense.”
That includes treating each room on a 90-day cycle and bringing in pest management professionals during construction to avoid future problems.
“When we build a hotel from the ground up, we bring in a pest elimination company upwards to six months before the build to work with our construction company,” Barrett said. “We’ll do that same thing during a renovation.”
Rivard said it’s important for a pest management professional to become intimately familiar with a property.
“They should really learn the building,” he said. “That means studying diagrams of floor plans to know where pests can pass through one area to another. Pests are highly mobile.”
5. A clean hotel is a pest-free hotel
When demand increases, there aren’t just more guests. There’s more water used. There’s more half-eaten food and garbage that might be appealing to pests such as ants, rats or cockroaches.
Getting garbage out of the way and off the property only becomes more vital during demand spikes.
“Our whole approach isn’t just focusing on bed bugs; it’s focused on cleanliness,” Barrett said.
That’s sometimes easier said than done, Rivard said.
“It becomes a numbers game,” he said. “The more residents on a property possibly bringing things in, the less hours there are available to clean and stand up to competing pressures.”
He said the solution in those circumstances is to bring in outside help.
“(Hoteliers) should use contractors more,” Rivard said. “If they’re pressured in trying to clean, outsiders can be of help.”