Reality bites: Do hotels have to notify guests about bed bug incidents?

Oct 6, 2019

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Bed bugs can easily turn any hotel stay into an absolute nightmare. Unfortunately, that seems to be what happened this weekend to Kendra James, an entertainment writer and editor, while staying in a New York City Hilton.

She documented her experience on Twitter, on a thread that included this tweet:

During her stay at the Hilton Doubletree on W 29th St in New York City, James allegedly found multiple bed bug bites on the back of her neck and top of her back, and ended finding at least one in her hair. According to James, the hotel apologized, switched her room and then slid an offer for free breakfast under her door. Later, she found another bed bug in her new room (though it’s unclear whether it was from her original room or if there was a separate issue in the new room).

Curious about how hotels handle bed bug situations such as these, I reached out to the Doubletree in NYC where the incident took place. The woman I spoke with said the hotel’s policy was to put any rooms with reported bed bugs out of service and immediately call in professionals to inspect and exterminate any issues. A manager at the hotel confirmed, however, that they do not necessarily inform other guests when an incident occurs.

I’m staying at a different Hilton hotel in New York City this upcoming week, so this whole situation had me immediately crawling out of my skin. What bed bug policies do other hotels have in place for their guests? And what, if any, are the federal regulations surrounding something like this?

To answer these questions, I reached out to customer service representatives from the major domestic hotel chains for answers.

Do U.S. hotel chains have official bed bug policies?

We decided to take a look at five major U.S. hotel brands and find out what their policies are regarding bed bug incidents and whether they notify guests. I called guest customer service at Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt, IHG and Wyndham to see if anyone could give me more information on these policies, but the responses I got were more than a little disconcerting.

Related: How to avoid bed bugs while traveling, and what to do if you get them

According to the customer service representatives that I spoke with, none of the hotel chains except Marriott have a set policy on how branded hotels are meant to deal with bed bug complaints.

Most conversations went about the same: First, I would ask if the chain had a bed bug policy on how it deals with incidents and disclose information to future guests. There would be a pause, and then the representative would ask if there was a specific location I had an issue with.

When I explained I was inquiring about a brand-wide policy, almost all gave a very similar answer: No, there was no brand-wide policy on handling bed bugs. These hotel chains do not have official treatment policies in place nor require individual hotels to disclose any information in a specific way, as each individual hotel has its own policy. The representatives also reiterated that I should rest assured that the brand as a whole values cleanliness and is dedicated to customer care.

Marriott was the only outlier in terms of bed bug treatment. A customer service representative there said that when bed bug reports are made, the specific room is quarantined while specialists inspect the room.

Otherwise, the message was that guests are left to deal with individual location managers and policies.

Federal regulations on hotel bed bug policies

With similar answers from Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt, IHG and Wyndham, I started looking at what federal laws and regulations are in place surrounding hotels and pest policies.

There are no federal laws that require hotels to take certain actions to prevent infestations, and there are no regulations regarding how hotels must respond to reports of bed bugs (or other pests). USA Today reports that a small group of states that includes Arkansas, California, Kansas, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, South Dakota and West Virginia have bed bug-specific laws in place, but the article mainly just clarifies in writing that hotels are required to take certain measures to prevent pests — not treat or alert guests to pest problems.

Only three states (Kansas, Nevada and West Virginia) require hotels to stop using rooms where bed bugs are found and exterminate any pests before another guest stays the night.

Bottom line

The lack of official hotel policies surrounding an issue as important as bed bugs is more than a little worrisome.

Moral of the story? Whenever you are planning a stay at any hotel, always make sure to ask about the hotel’s pest control policy and whether it has had any recent issues. I called up the Hilton I am staying at this upcoming week, where a wonderful guest relations employee assured me that they have a professional pest control service sweep rooms on a weekly basis, and also informed me that there have been no “recent” bed bug incidents at the hotel.

Thankfully, I’ve never had to deal with bed bugs (knock on wood), and I hope to keep it that way. However, it’s surprising that the hotel brands I frequently stay with have little to no oversight on how individual hotels within their portfolios deal with incidents like the one at the Hilton Doubletree this weekend.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to call each hotel I have a standing reservation with to ask about the bed bug policy.

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H/T: Victoria Walker

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