by Larry Mundy
Help! My Hotel Room Is Bugged!
|Quick! What is the scariest two-word phrase in hotel operations?
“Legionnaire’s Disease?” “QA Inspector?” “Structural Failure?”
“Group Cancellation?” Nope. The two words that most often cause
involuntary loss of bladder control among hotel GM’s are these: “Cimex
That’s right, the common bedbug. That’s because every evening newscast needs a “shocker” story, so viewers won’t become bored by the routine, everyday stuff – wars, grisly murders, raging fires, Presidential misstatements. News viewers want to see the mighty brought low. They want to feel better about themselves by seeing people more miserable and unfortunate than they are. They want scandal, like the beautiful young schoolteacher sleeping with her third-grade student, the mayor getting massages from the city’s librarian during work hours, the gentle preacher who is revealed to raise pit bulls for combat. They want The Bedbug Story.
And every few months, they get it. There’s a formula for these: a serious sounding announcer says something like “Are YOU safe in the bed of a posh hotel?” and the camera shows the exposed back of some unfortunate victim, which looks like it’s been splattered with buckshot by the Dukes of Hazzard. The announcer again: “Sadie Hawkins tells us she stayed at the four-star Primmer Regal Suites last Wednesday, and woke up to a terrible sensation of itching and burning.” The camera pans back, showing more and more festering wounds, and then you realize – her limbs are missing! Announcer: “Ms. Hawkins’ legs and arms were eaten to the bone in less than 30 minutes. Her doctor and huge collection of attorneys say she will never play championship softball again, and must undergo a series of excruciatingly painful operations to remove all her skin. The hotel, contacted by an obnoxious reporter carrying a camera and blinding lights, refused to comment.” The screen fills with a closeup of one of the monsters from the movie “Aliens,” slobbering through its teeth, and then cuts to the attractively-groomed anchorperson, shaking his head gravely. Immediately, three things happen. The news show’s ratings go up three points. Sirens and bells ring in the spin-control department of Primmer Regal Suites, Incorporated because there is no worse chainwide PR than the dreaded Bedbug Story. And Primmer’s chainwide occupancy falls 9 points the next day, even in hotels on the other side of the planet. It doesn’t matter that later investigation reveals Ms. Hawkins was actually the victim of her deranged acupuncturist ex-husband, the damage has been done.
I don’t mean to say that Cimex lectularius is not the most despicable creature in nature. It attacks at night, like the wolf you imagined lived under your bed when you were three years old. It creeps into your bed while you’re sleeping, defenseless, and scantily clothed. It eats human flesh, like a school of gnashing pirhanas, and it can’t be stopped by conventional military means such as automatic pistols and bazookas. And during the day, it disappears entirely, leaving no trace of its existence except the plaintive moaning of its scattered victims. It is creepier than any horror movie not involving chainsaws.
How does it manage this disappearing act? A bedbug can compress itself to a height less than that of a human hair, and crawl behind light switches, into clock-radio speaker grilles, through tiny cracks in the baseboards. It can make itself small enough to nest in the spray holes in showerheads, the little cast-in grooves that make melamine dresser-tops look ever so slightly more like real wood, the pixels of a laptop display. It can change its color to blend into the paisley design of your drapes or the dot on the “i” on a logoed napkin. It can survive as long as 18 months without a meal, if it’s feasted on a really fat guy first. It can dematerialize and travel across space and time. When the human race is extinct and the world is ruled by giant cockroaches, they will be gathered in their roach-motel PR offices discussing the bedbug problem.
Where do they come from? Well, like tiny Labrador retrievers, bedbugs are “people-friendly.” They come into your hotel with guests – in their underwear, in their luggage, or even disguised as a clever lapel pin. The Army avoids bedbugs by having recruits strip naked, stand in a line, and be sprayed down with some cancer-causing chemical. This would not be practical at hotel check-in, unless you redesign your lobby. I have heard that some retired electronics wizard has invented a walk-through bedbug detector, that works sort of like the metal detectors at airports, but the invention is being cruelly suppressed by the guild of local TV-news directors.
Ordinary “odor-free” insecticides, the kind George the Bug Guy dispenses throughout your hotel every month, don’t faze bedbugs. You can fill a saucer with that stuff and place it in an infested room, then turn on the lights at 3 AM, and you will find a large party of bedbugs in tiny sunglasses, swimming in it and playing water volleyball with some unfortunate dust mite. Others will be lounging nearby on big beach towels fashioned from Kleenex, drinking cups of it and singing drunken campfire songs: “Old MacDonald went to bed, E-I-E-I-Oww….”
No, the only insecticides effective against bedbugs are those that smell like a leaky chemical plant, peel wallpaper and dissolve organic matter. And it must be applied by “fogging” in order to reach all the nooks and crannies where bedbugs are crouching ready to strike. That means you have to seal off the room, the floor, or the entire hotel, depending upon the extent of the infestation, and fill it with noxious fumes that will not be dispelled for days. Since Home Depot doesn’t sell plastic bags big enough to envelop a seven-story hotel, this is probably a job for a professional debugger. These guys operate like Red Adair combating an oil-well fire, hauling in heavy equipment and hazmat suits that look like the Ghostbusters. You will have to evacuate all your service personnel and shut down all air conditioning and heating. That means that during this time, you can probably only take airline-crew business.
For a really bad infestation, where the bedbugs have equipped themselves with tiny gas masks and a stockpile of Epidermis Bars, the preferred solution is to reduce the entire building to rubble with plastic explosives and rebuild. That gets rid of those pesky bedbugs, and when you rebuild, maybe you can even design in decent-sized bathrooms! The drawback is that this technique is very expensive and will depress your occupancy and rate for the period while your hotel is merely a big pile of sticks and exploded toilets.
But as usual, I have an inexpensive, safe and effective solution to
all these problems. Bedbugs only come out at night, right?
Like the nocturnal devils they are, they shrink from the cold light of
day. If your guests would only leave the lights on 24/7, all your
bedbugs would eventually starve or move to Toledo. So simply hardwire
the room lighting so that it is always on, and dispense each guest a lightproof
“sleep mask” at check-in. These only cost a few cents, which would
be offset by the laundry savings of eliminating all bedding except for
a bottom sheet. Guests who rest bathed in the glow of a 200-watt
fluorescent ceiling fixture will awake refreshed, bite-free and ready to
start their busy day. No noxious chemicals will be released into
the environment. No one will be lounging in your lobby in space suits.
And the local TV-news people will quit bugging us all.
Larry Mundy works for a hotel company in Dallas. His views are his own, and may differ considerably from those of a sane person."
|Also See:||The Straight Poop on Pet-Friendly Hotels / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / October 2006|
|Hotel Energy Management Systems 101/ Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / September 2006|
|Fuscia Floors and Lime-Green Tubs; Not Everyone Wants a “Home-like” Atmosphere in a Hotel / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / September 2006|
|Your Hotel Laundry Room / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / September 2006|
|Your Hotel Parking Lot / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / August 2006|
|Room Service / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / August 2006|
|Redecorate Your Elevator Cabs, Every Fall / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / August 2006|
|The Basic Hotel Shower-Tub Combination, a Relic? / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / August 2006|
|Different Views of Customer Service - The Airline “Passenger Experience” vs the Hotel Guest Experience/ Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / August 2006|
|The Hotel Guest With Half a Brain / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / July 2006|
|The Latest Thing - Fractional Ownership Of Things or FOOT Financing for Hotels / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / July 2006|
|Hotel Floor Surfaces - Hard or Soft? / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / July 2006|
|Hotel Bathroom Origami - That Tiny Detail of Carefully Triangulated Toilet Paper / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / July 2006|
|A Chain, a System, a Franchise, a Collection, a Group, a Brand... / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / July 2006|
|The Forensic Hotel Housekeeper / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / July 2006|
|The Exercise Room in Your Hotel - Sweating the Details / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / June 2006|
|Remembering the old-time Hotel Engineering Department / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / June 2006|
|Curse of the Hotel Lobby-Dwellers / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / June 2006|
|What Do You Do With an Old Hotel? / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / June 2006|
|Hotel Smokers: A Dying Breed / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / May 2006|
|The New Food & Beverage – Food “Just Like Home” / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / May 2006|
|Guest Privacy – It’s Not Just a Door Tag Anymore / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / May 2006|
|The Future of Hotel Reservations / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / May 2006|
|Soon Every Town in America Will Have an Unused Convention Center / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / May 2006|
|Hotel Pool Safety 101 / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / May 2006|
|Where Not To Build a Hotel / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / May 2006|
|“Exterior Corridors” – Disappearing, Because They Never Existed / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy|
|My Top Ten Worst Hotel Inventions / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / April 2006|
|Bed Tech / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / April 2006|
|A Sense of Arrival / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / April 2006|