Hotels, pest-control companies abuzz about technology

A rodent trap designed to alert pest-management professionals when tripped. Photo credit: McCloud Services

Pest-control professionals are like Santa Claus: Parents want their kids to believe he's always watching, but they don't like him hanging around all the time. This is no secret to them, which is why many pest-management companies are making use of technology to improve communications between them and hotels so they can stay out of sight until they're needed.

Patricia Hottel, technical director at pest-management company McCloud Services, said her company and many others are deploying remote monitoring equipment to alert either pest-management professionals or the property in question in the event of an infestation. Currently, Hottel said much of this technology is focused on rodents, with sensors tied to traps positioned around the property. When a trap is tripped, it will send a message to a computer or cell phone with an alert.

Hottel said that typically, systems allow for multiple users to be alerted, but her company warns customers that these alerts may not come during normal operating hours.

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"The alert can come in at 3 a.m., so that is sort of a test for how dedicated your manager is," Hottel joked. "Some people don't care to know that there was a mouse in their kitchen at the crack of dawn, but the option is there."

Because this technology is fairly new, it is also limited. Hottel did say that there are tools in development for insect light traps and test monitors, as well as pheromone traps and tiles or pads positioned to see if rodents are active in a property, relying on movement rather than a trap to positively ID a pest.

Many hotels already use systems that allow housekeeping and maintenance workers to report issues via text communication, and pest-control companies are also getting in on the action. Chelle Hartzer, technical services manager at Orkin, said emails, online forms and text messages are all being used to improve communications between hoteliers and PMPs, and urged operators to discuss such measures with their partner companies.

New technology is being developed to detect other pests, such as cockroaches. Photo credit: McCloud Services

In fact, Shane McCoy, director of quality and technical training at Wil-Kil Pest Control, said the company is training hotel staff on what to look for before sending an alert to improve the chances of targeted pest management, such as documenting the number of ants stuck on a sticky trap or noting any weather strips under doors that may be damaged or missing.

"You probably don't want to send an alert for every ant you see, but there is a threshold operators can be on the lookout for," McCoy said. "We note these as conducive conditions for pest problems, and with good documentation we can take care of these problems more quickly."

When making use of these tools, Hottel said some training may be necessary.

"Once, a trap with a sensor caught a mouse and sent an alert. When we arrived we noticed an employee had used the trap to prop open a door," she said. "Had we not returned immediately, we might have come back a week later and noted a mouse in a trap without knowing the cause."

Green Solution

When faced with hotel pests, operators may want to resist the urge to spray first and ask questions later. On one hand, using some chemicals may prohibit your hotel from obtaining LEED certification, but more importantly, the use of some pesticides may end up strengthening pests in the long term. Luckily, there are some healthy alternatives for taking care of unwanted guests, and I don't mean hipsters.

McCoy said green products available today are organic phosphates based on plant chemistry and last no more than 30 days. By comparison, legacy pest-control chemicals could last for years, and even posed a risk of contaminating soil or entering the water table.

"The products we use today are very selective, which is good for targeted insect repellent," McCoy said. "These products can be put in the cracks and crevices where pests hide, reducing exposure to workers and guests."

Bed bugs are resistant to chemicals, so if they are found in a guestroom the space must be sealed and extreme heat or cold must be used to eliminate them. Photo credit: Orkin

McCoy said many pest-control companies are employing products that target enzymes specifically found in insects, making them harmless to humans. In many cases, these organic phosphates don't act like poisons at all, instead sticking to insects and covering up their breathing apparatus rather than acting as a nerve toxin. This offers many bonuses, including the fact that it doesn't increase a pest's resistance to chemicals.

Pests such as bed bugs are very resistant to pesticides, McCoy said, which is why pest-control companies rely on heat and cold applications to dispose of them. To eliminate bed bugs, a guestroom must be completely sealed and its interior temperature raised to 135 degrees Fahrenheit (or lowered to minus-150 or minus-160 degrees Fahrenheit) for prolonged periods. This is a complicated process that can potentially damage sensitive electronics, and puts a guestroom out of commission for some time.

To avoid creating a similar situation with other pests, hotels are urged to investigate the means by which pests are disposed of. Hottel said that in recent years, pest companies have developed fly baits that can be used indoors, and even near food areas, which could become a game changer.

"Small flies can be problematic in food facilities, and we have tools that allow us to target them on building exteriors," she said. "From a chemical standpoint, in addition to sanitation, using fly baits indoors has been a goal for some time."

"Exclusion" and "sanitation" are a PMP's favorite words. In addition, Hartzer said baits are effective at pest management because pests collect these poisons and return them to their hiding spots, "sharing" it with others. These are most efficient when used on termites and other "social" insects.

"Many of our current products can be applied in very small amounts in very targeted and out-of-the-way locations," Hartzer said.