Most consumers can't identify bed bugs, survey finds

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Researchers say this misunderstanding can be devastating for hotels

Whether you’re traveling for work or just taking a vacation, one of the last things you want to see when you drop your bags in your hotel room is an infestation of bed bugs. But are those tiny insects really bed bugs at all?

In a recent survey, researchers from the University of Kentucky found that up to 60% of respondents would switch hotels if they found bed bugs in their room. But, ironically, the same survey found that only 35% of business travelers and 28% of leisure travelers could identify a bed bug in the first place.

"Considering all the media attention paid to bed bugs in recent years, the fact that most travelers still have a poor understanding of them is troubling," said co-author Dr. Michael Potter.

Devastating for hotels

Potter and lead author Dr. Jerrod M. Penn of the UK’s Department of Agricultural Economics say that this lack of understanding can be especially harmful to the hotel and hospitality industry.

In an age where online reviews can save or sink a business, they found that most travelers will go out of their way to avoid a hotel with a reputation for bed bugs.

"From a hotel industry perspective, it's worrisome that a single online report of bed bugs would cause the majority of travelers to book different accommodations, irrespective of whether the report is accurate,” said Penn. “Furthermore, the incident could have involved only one or a few rooms, which the hotel previously eradicated.”

Dealing with infestations

The survey does offer some hope to hotels, though. Approximately half of the respondents said that they would stay at a hotel if it proactively provided information on the steps it takes to prevent bed bug infestations. Making this information readily available and responding to online reviews to improve hotel conditions could go a long way towards gaining consumer trust.

"Hotels and others in the hospitality sector should develop a reputation management plan to prudently respond to online reports of bed bugs in their facility,” said senior author Dr. Wuyang Hu.

“Hotels should also train their housekeeping and engineering staffs to recognize and report bed bugs in the earliest possible stages, when infestations are more manageable. Similarly important is training front desk and customer service employees to respond promptly and empathetically when incidents arise within the hotel.”

The team’s full study has been published in the journal American Entomologist

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