Always Bet on the BUG

Hotels can be well-upholstered jungles teeming with critters, from the bed bugs that itch their way into the headlines to the cockroaches that survive plagues and the mice that vacuum up the crumbs guests so frequently leave outside their doors. Everything a pest wants is available in a hotel — food, water and shelter — and it's not because hotels are in the business of those commodities. It's because people don't consider how truly hospitable hotels are to insects, rodents, vermin, even birds.

“Anytime you can interrupt their comfort by interrupting one of these three requirements, you're going to reduce your chance of infestation,” says Greg Baumann, vice president of and senior scientist at the National Pest Management Association in Fairfax, VA.

“You have lots of traffic going in and out the front door, and at the same time, you have doors propped open so people can bring in their luggage — or for employees who want a little extra cool air,” Baumann says.

In extended-stay and all-suite properties, where people cook in, pests can enter by way of groceries. And in the foodservice area of a hotel restaurant, trash removal can attract flying insects. And let's not forget that insect magnet known as the loading dock.

“Every building is porous,” says Baumann, adding the $6.7-billion pest management industry has been growing at a rate of four to five percent a year. “But the fact that there's so much activity at a hotel increases the chance of infestation.”

Besides guestrooms and restaurants, indoor pools can draw unwelcome forms of life. The pools can lead to condensation on windows, which creates pooling water. And the numerous cracks and crevices in hotels provide yet more potential residences for the pests.

The most common uninvited guest? The German cockroach, which “infests the structure itself. They eat everything we eat and the population can increase very quickly,” says Baumann.

Style has its price, too. In boutique hotels, people throw debris into waste baskets which, for appearance's sake, lack liners. “People take leftover food from dinner and throw it in there and a lot of it spills on the side,” Baumann says. “Housekeeping staff does a great job and dumps it out, but it doesn't realize there's still food residue in the crevices or along the side. If you're an ant, that's 50 times the size of your body. That's a lot of food.

“A hotel can encourage people to call down when they're finished with their meal instead of leaving dirty dishes with food in the room for 12 hours,” he says. “Guest behavior is important, and the hotel can help.”

Housekeeping is critical, too.


According to a recent poll commissioned by Orkin Pest Control Company, the biggest guest turnoff is a dirty bathtub; more than nine of every 10 hotel guests said that alone might cause them not to return.

Pests, too, make for bad public relations. Eighty-five percent told Orkin they might never return if they saw or heard a mouse; the figure was 80 percent for guests who saw a cockroach in the bathroom.

The poll surveyed 95 hospitality employees from management to line-level, along with 85 guests who indicated they spend at least one night a month in a hotel.

Other relevant poll figures:

  • 45 percent of respondents said flies are a common problem at their establishments

  • 32 percent reported the same about roaches

  • 26 percent said that about rodents

  • 20 percent reported that bed bugs are present in their establishments annually “or so.”

According to Frank Meek, Orkin's technical director, pest control boils down to “good sanitation and housekeeping practices and a good working relationship between hospitality and pest control.”

It's an ongoing battle because no matter how sophisticated the chemicals, pests are “extremely creative and are very well-adapted to surviving,” Meek says.

There are regional and seasonal differences. A cluster fly problem is expected to develop in the Northeast around October, Meek suggested; meanwhile, birds should be “a major concern because they can spread disease and cause structural damage.”

Meek said housekeeping is “where the rubber meets the road” in pest control. Orkin has been asked to produce material in five different languages; already, it produces it in English and Spanish, and has French-speaking staff in Quebec. Translating entomological terms into Portuguese and Russian, for example, can be challenging. So Orkin is exploring ways to simplify communication by using pictures and other graphics — as well as words. Images can speak volumes.

“I'll take housekeeping staff into a hotel room and show them where insects are likely to live,” he says. “You do the same for cockroaches and rodents; if you teach people where to look, in the back of their mind they're thinking about that whenever they go into a facility. And if that housekeeper finds something before it gets out of hand, it makes our job as pest controllers easier — and reduces the likelihood of that hotel getting a complaint from a client.”

Meek would like a central point of communication between pest controllers and hotels to forge a clear picture of the problem. Often, he finds many staffers citing a single pest sighting, which pest control can interpret as many different pests.

Orkin manufactures insecticides, as does Bayer Environmental Science. Other pest control-related products include Sterifab, a disinfectant plus insectide, and Protect-A-Bed pillow, mattress and box spring protectors and covers.

Sterifab kills bed bugs, fleas, dust mites and other insects, says Steve Goldrich, vice president of Noble Pine Products, Sterifab's parent company. On the market since 1967, Sterifab is not residual and dries after 15 to 20minutes. “It is designed to kill what it hits,” Goldrich says.

The Protect-A-Bed Bug Off mattress cover is a fully encased mattress and box spring cover that is “bed bug proof,” according to Petra Minoff, vice president of sales for the hospitality division of Protect-A-Bed. In addition, the company uses “bite-proof” fabric in its mattress covers.

“Bed bugs can bite through woven fabric but not through the Protect-A-Bed premium fabric,” Minoff says. “If a hotel has problems with bed bugs, the first thing it has to do is throw out the mattress and box spring because the EPA prohibits applying poison to a mattress. With our cover, a hotel owner protects the investment in the mattress and the box spring.”


According to Gordon Morrison, market manager for Maxforce, an insecticide gel from Bayer Environmental Science, the number-one insect pest is ants; number two is roaches; and number three is the arachnid, or the spider. As for rodents, they're number four, and mice are more prevalent than rats. Fire ants, which sting, can be a problem in the Southeast, and the large cockroach, also known as the Palmetto bug, can cause major headaches in Florida properties. Droppings from pigeons, sparrows and starlings can spread the histoplasmosis fungus, which can lead to a potentially fatal lung disease. And the bite of a brown recluse spider can leave a hole in your skin the size of a half-dollar.

While Morrison advocates spraying insecticide to combat insects, he cautions against gratuitous use. The buzz phrase in the thriving pest control industry is integrated pest management, or IPM. “Should you spray a hotel room for ants if there are no ants, or should you monitor it with a sticky trap to catch an insect and say, ‘Okay, we have a problem,’ instead of spraying something where nothing exists?”

The federal Environmental Protection Agency calls for “judicious use” of insecticide, which Morrison terms a “judgment call.”

“If somebody in the room had a problem with bed bugs and you treated that room, I would recommend treating the room above it, the room below it, and the ones on both sides,” he says. “But I wouldn't recommend treating the entire property for bed bugs if you couldn't find them. Be smart about it.”

“Always bet on the bug,” says Orkin's Meek, recalling the advice of one of his professors. Words to live by, indeed.

For more information on pest control management, use the reader service card in the back of the magazine to contact these companies: Protect-A-Bed, circle 54; Sterifab, circle 56; Orkin, circle 28; Bayer, circles 10 and 11. Other, related companies include Terminix, circle 58; Copesan, circle 59; Ecolab, circle 60, and Bird B Gone, circle 61.

For more information and related articles, go to

Ten Tips to Keep Pests Out of Hotels

  1. Keep doors and windows without screens closed; watch areas such as lobbies where there is frequent activity of guests and open doors

  2. Keep vegetation trimmed and inspect frequently; seal cracks and holes in buildings to prevent pest entry

  3. Interrupt at least one of the three requirements for pests — food, water, harborage areas

  4. Make sure to reduce standing water in pool areas, on parking lots, and flat roofs; not only will this reduce chances of insects, but it will reduce chances of bird populations as well

  5. Promptly remove roomservice dishes from rooms and hallways

  6. Make sure that food residue in room trash containers is removed

  7. Keep trash cans near soda machines empty and clean

  8. Train hotel staff on general pests associated with hotels and to notify their supervisors anytime a pest is found; it is easier to control a pest before the population explodes; quickly respond to guest complaints of pests

  9. Hire a professional pest management firm for a regular inspection and service

  10. Visit more information on pests, pest management, and how to find a professional.

Source: National Pest Management Association

Reprints and Licensing
© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

Acceptable Use Policy
blog comments powered by Disqus

Most Recent

More Recent Articles

Career Center

Quick Job Search
Enter Keyword(s):
Enter a City:

Select a State:

Select a Category:
Franchise Fact File Top Brands
Brand Company Basics Top Management Companies
Owners & Operators Industry Consultants
Industry Associations Industry Events
Design Firms Purchasing Companies
Top Ownership Groups

Click here to view all of the Lodging Hospitality Photo Galleries

Accor Best Western
Carlson Rezidor Choice
Hilton Hyatt
IHG La Quinta
Marriott Starwood
Vantage Wyndham

Free Product Information
News and Trends for the Hotel, Motel, and Hospitality Markets.

Lodging Hospitality eReport
Lodging Hospitality electronic newsletters are FREE to requested subscribers.

Lodging Hospitality Resource Center
The Lodging Hospitality Resource Center is the ultimate resource to find products and services to build, equip, and renovate hotels, motels and resorts.

Subscribe / Renew
Visit our subscription center to subscribe or renew your subscription to Lodging Hospitality.

Visit our webinars page to view all our upcoming and on demand webinars.

Visit our White Papers page to view all our current White Papers.