Bedbugs can be more than a pain in the boudoir. They can take a bite out of the wallet, too.
With the advent of social media — where every guest complaint can live on forever on the Internet — agricultural economists and bedbug experts at the University of Kentucky have studied how much reports of bedbugs can cost businesses.
They found that a single report of bedbugs in recent traveler reviews lowers the value of a hotel room by $38 a night for business travelers and $23 for leisure travelers.
The research targeted an understanding of consumer preferences when choosing a hotel and how much to pay for it, and how the risk of bedbugs influences their decisions.
Hotel guests have commented on bedbugs and other room calamities since the advent of online commenting, UK entomologist Michael Potter said. For hotels, the question is how much that shared information costs them and what to do to fix it.
UK's study was financed through a grant from Protect-A-Bed, which makes protective bedding products. The survey was conducted in May and included almost 2,100 people representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
"Many of these (social media) reports are not substantiated, but people are entitled to say their piece," Potter said. "There's a lot of economic hardship to the hospitality industry as a result of these reports of bedbugs in their facilities."
Hotel guests often associate bedbugs with defective sanitary practices, but Potter said it's impossible to entirely avoid the critters, which can hide not only in beds but in upholstery, carpet, clothing, drapes and backpacks.
"It's impossible to keep bedbugs out of the buildings, but the key is to be very vigilant and to catch these occurrences early on before they have a chance to spread," Potter said. "People would feel a lot better knowing that the hotel industry is taking measures, ... but that in itself is not going to prevent this problem."
The challenge is for the hotels to be aggressive in preventing bedbugs without overselling that vigilance as if they have a bedbug problem, said agricultural economics professor Wuyang Hu, a partner in the study.
Individual travelers are not set on hurting the hotel industry, Hu said, but the industry nonetheless has to assure potential guests in an unobtrusive way that bedbugs are one of the health and safety concerns routinely addressed.
He suggested the industry introduce a bedbug index or a bedbug warning scale that could work uniformly across the industry.
That way, he said, potential hotel customers would know the hotel had pledged to take action on bedbugs in the same ways that it pledges such basics as clean rooms and common spaces and guest safety.
Those interested in bedbugs, Hu reasoned, could look up a hotel's bedbug certification; those interested in, say, noise or temperature problems can look elsewhere for information.
"From the perspective of the industry, that's a more effective and less troublesome tactic," Hu said.