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Lessons from the Brisbane hotel bed bug debacle

Bed bug battle plan, how to prevent your accommodation from going viral, for all the wrong reasons! 

Last week, a couple enjoying a romantic getaway at a Brisbane hotel ended up spending the night sleeping in the lobby after finding several cockroaches and what appeared to be an infestation of bed bugs in their guestroom.

Unfortunately, as the alleged infestation was discovered at 2 am, the onsite employee was uncontactable and the guests were forced to sleep in the lobby. 

After the guests posted on social media about their experience, the incident quickly went viral online and was picked up by multiple media outlets, creating a PR disaster for the hotel.

Read the summer print edition of AccomNews HERE

While bed bugs are often associated with uncleanliness, it is important to note that they can be found in any hospitality setting- even in the nicest hotel rooms. Hotels and all tourist accommodations are major spreading spots because travellers can easily transport bed bugs in luggage from one location to another.

Australia’s bed bug expert, Dr Stephen Doggett said: “There are a number of common misconceptions about bed bugs, including that they only live in dirty locations. This is false, even five-star hotels are not immune.”

For all accommodation operators, this recent incident should be a cautionary tale of just how quickly a bed bug infestation can occur and the importance of rectifying customer complaints as a matter of urgency.

Managing a bed bug infestation requires a strategic and proactive approach to mitigate damage to the accommodation’s reputation and ensure guests feel heard and respected.

Here are five top tips to prevent a bed bug infestation from impacting your reputation. 

1. Staff training

Bed bug infestations can take hold quickly and it is imperative that staff across all departments are well-trained in identifying the telltale signs of a bed bug infestation.

According to the Bed Bug Foundation, it’s vital to confirm that bed bugs are actually present before commencing unnecessary treatments caused by misidentifying other household insects as bed bugs. The Foundation provides an identification service, it recommends to familiarise yourself with what bed bugs and their signs look like, before contacting a pest control company.

If identified, it is important that proper protocols for containment and eradication have been implemented. This includes isolating the affected room and all affected linen and soft furnishings until professional treatment has been sought.

2. Regular inspections

While staff training is your first line of defence in the fight against bed bugs, regular inspections are essential in ensuring no signs are being missed. Housekeeping staff are managing dozens of rooms and tasks whilst performing their job, so regular inspections by management to specifically look for signs of bed bugs are key. 

Signs of bed bugs include guests complaining of bites but it is not always possible to identify the culprit from bites alone.

The Bed Bug Foundation states that the first indication of bed bugs is often the “presence of dark faecal spots on the bedding”. Housekeepers should check where bed bugs tend to hide, usually in a “sheltered crevice in somewhere in the structure of the bed”.

3. Communication channels

With dozens of staff members working different shifts, it is important to have a centralised communication channel to report bed bugs and other maintenance issues. It is also important that guests are able to report any suspicions of bed bugs.

However, approaching staff about such a sensitive topic can be intimidating. To alleviate this concern, accommodations could leave a card in each guest room to encourage guests to report any issues or provide feedback through an online form. 

4. After-hours assistance 

When the bed bugs were discovered in the Brisbane hotel, the guests were unable to contact anyone on staff for assistance. As a result, the guests ended up sleeping in the hotel lobby and posting about the incident on social media.

Guests always need to be able to contact accommodation staff in case of emergency, so it is essential that there is a number to call for assistance at any hour of the day. As a contingency, a second number to call should also be listed to ensure someone on staff can be contacted. 

5. Guest management 

Finally, if a bed bug infestation is identified in your accommodation, ensure you swiftly work with the affected guests to remedy the situation. This could include offering to dry clean their clothing free of charge, refunding their costs, or moving them into an upgraded room.

Working with guests to rectify their experience is key to ensuring they can still enjoy their holiday and you can hopefully avoid a negative review.

For accommodation operators looking to update their knowledge base, check out the Code of Practice for the Control of Bed Bug Infestations in Australia.

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