Take steps now to prevent pests this winter

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Beginning in September, outdoor pests begin to transition into indoor pests. If hoteliers are unprepared, they could find themselves host to everything from harmless but visually displeasing brown marmorated stink bugs and box elder bugs to destructive pests such as rodents.

Tim Husen, technical services manager at Orkin, said rodents are the No. 1 concern for hotels in the winter, particularly in urban environments. These pests are looking for a way in as temperatures drop, and they take advantage of hoteliers' summer habits to infiltrate properties.

“Hoteliers must change their behavior as things get cooler,” Husen said. “Some people leave doors open in the summer; remember to close them. It's hard to change habits, and rats and mice will enter anywhere near kitchens, loading docks and even laundry carts.”

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Once rodents make their way into a property it can be difficult to remove them, which is why exclusion is so important. Patricia Hottel, technical director at McCloud Services, said the timing on automatic doors should be adjusted to be stricter, making it more difficult for rodents to enter a property. Receiving areas also should be inspected for rodent nests. She said it's helpful to clear any trees or vegetation that may have contact with the exterior of a hotel because it could give rodents an easy way into a building.

“Landscape management is important for preventing rodents from entering a hotel,” Hottel said. “Some types of vegetation can be beneficial to pests, such as anything that provides ground cover or could hide burrows. Also, this kind of vegetation can make it difficult to clean, and can eventually attract pests.”

Hottel suggests using trash cans with self-closing lids rather than open containers, and keeping trash compactors or dumpsters both clean and away from the immediate vicinity of a hotel.

Shane McCoy, director of quality and technical training at exterminator Wil-Kil, said hotels commonly make use of vinyl weather strips at the bottom of doorways to keep out the elements, but these strips will prove useless against rodents. Instead, he suggests using specially-made pest brushes, which pull double duty by blocking both weather and rodents.

“Weather brushes have bristles, while vinyl strips can be chewed through by rodents,” McCoy said. “Their whiskers and the hairs around their faces do not like pest brushes, either, so they won't bite them.”

McCoy said these measures are necessary, because once rodents make their way into a property, it becomes necessary to use traps or rodenticide to remove them. While these methods work, the only thing worse than a guest seeing a live rat is them finding a dead one.

“Hotels have to inspect their window screens for tears or needed adjustments, and any entry point around gas or air conditioning lines should be plugged with steel wool,” McCoy said. “Also, steel wool used outside can rust, so we advise putting a sealant around it. We do not recommend a cheap caulk for this because it often won't move with the natural movement of a building and will crack.”

Bump in the Night 

McCoy dreams of the day a scanner is invented that can detect bed bugs on guests entering a hotel. Until that day comes about, however, hotel operators are going to have to rely on their wits and the skill of their employees to spot bed-bug infestations before they take hold of a property.

“The worst is when a guest comes to the front desk with a bug in a cup,” McCoy said. “Ten years ago they would ask what kind of bug it is, but today they already know. When that happens, your front-desk agents better have a plan [and] don’t just shrug and scratch their head.”

Hottel said that when a guest finds a bed bug it is in a hotel’s best interests to move him or her to a new room immediately, and to be honest about the issue. Pointing to historical proof regarding your property’s bed-bug history can be a plus if the bug has made few appearances, but operators are urged to always be understanding.

“It always depends on the situation,” Hottel said. “If this is a single infestation and the room hasn’t been infected prior to the instance, thank the guest and follow through with treatment.”

Because there are no liquid or chemical traps that are able to attract and contain bed bugs effectively, Hottel said hotel staff are still the first line of defense against infestations. Housekeeping and maintenance workers, in particular, are instrumental in curbing outbreaks of bed bugs, and any bed-bug sightings by staff should be incentivized and rewarded.

According to Husen, the spread of bed bugs hasn’t slowed down at all in recent years, and now that guests are looking for them on arrival their discovery is inevitable. Because of this, hotels with action plans always will fare better under guest scrutiny after the fact, he said.

“It’s important to have answers. What are you doing with your guest’s luggage? How fast are [pest-management professionals] expected to arrive after a sighting? If you don’t have a plan the whole situation will drag on, impacting the success of any countermeasure,” Husen said. “This is why monitoring is so important. People don’t want to be inconvenienced, and they don’t want to see bugs, but they at least appreciate answers.”