Alex McWhirter; Derek Picot
Abusiness traveller recently asked me how frequently a hotel should change its mattresses. He had been bitten in bed on his last trip. Judging by recent adverts on British television we should be replacing our bed every six years, but isn’t this just manufacturers’ sales talk?
Most upmarket London hotels change their mattresses every eight years and, according to industry statistics, home owners are swapping old for new every ten years.
I calculate that for a hotel that runs more than 80 per cent occupancy year round, with business travellers staying an average of just two nights, a hotel bed could have had more than a thousand different people sleeping on it during an eightyear period. That is quite a number, and guests can hope to rest assured that at least the linens are fresh and each mattress will have a protector.
Laundered sheets and new mattresses, however, will not safeguard the traveller from Cimex lectularius, the ubiquitous bedbug, which infests new mattresses as easily as old.
The appearance of bedbugs and claims against hotels that have them are not uncommon. Dr Richard Naylor is an entomologist who works for Cimexstore, a company that specialises in bedbug eradication. He is often called as a witness to testify where there is litigation regarding hotel infestations. He states that usually hotels settle legitimate claims out of court, to avoid bad press on sites such as Tripadvisor, and that levels of compensation for those who get bitten vary greatly. Budget hotels might reimburse you the cost of your room, but upmarket hotels have paid larger claims.
ON THE RISE
There has been a dramatic increase in bedbug cases over the past 15 years. Infestations have climbed internationally since the 1980s, for reasons that are not clear. The US National Pest Management Association says that increased international travel may be a contributing factor. In January 2018, Orkin – one of the largest pest control firms in the States – published a list of cities that had the most treatments from their firm. Baltimore was at the top of the list, followed by Washington DC and then Chicago.
Back in the UK, Dr Naylor says that in the 1930s in parts of London every house was infested. In comparison, today’s bedbug levels are low, but the problem is increasing despite a decade of new bedbug pesticide development.
The most likely source of infestation is from luggage, and once in a hotel bedroom, insects inhabit not only the bed but also other soft furnishings and fixtures. The traveller can take some comfort from examining the bed for signs of infestation first (small dark spots on the mattress may indicate bedbug droppings), but this method is no guarantee. Bugs travel after they have fed, and scurry off to the darkest and warmest parts of the room.
In the United Kingdom under the Occupiers’ Liability Act, hoteliers must take all reasonable measures to prevent foreseeable hazards like these; guests should be protected in rooms and restaurants. With the disappearance of DDT decades ago, fumigation has become more challenging. The most effective treatment seems to be with the use of smoke-bomb foggers containing permethrin. You light the fuse, stand well back and leave the room for 24 hours. After that all the movable bedding has to be laundered and the carpets as well as soft furnishings vacuumed. Disinfestation can also be achieved by insulating the room and then using heaters to raise the temperature to 45°C for 24 hours; a complex and costly affair.
Laundered sheets and new mattresses will not safeguard the traveller from Cimex lectularius
So what should business travellers do if they wake up in the morning and find themselves covered in bright red bumps? Firstly, they should make sure of their facts before pursuing any claim, and should document the circumstances. Photographs are useful and medical reports are important. In every case, the hotel should be advised immediately and they should let you know what they intend to do about your issue at the same time. If you have been bitten, you should put all your clothing in the washing machine when you get home. Wash then dry them to the maximum temperature your clothing can tolerate. That should kill off any bedbugs.
And for those of you who, like me, want to sleep tight, we should take no chances on our next trip to Baltimore. I will be napping in the bath, wrapped in a mosquito net.
DEREK PICOT A HOTELIER FOR MORE THAN 30 YEARS AND AUTHOR OF HOTEL RESERVATIONS