Don't Let the Bedbugs Bite


Regardless of where you find bugs, they can be downright nasty. How you deal with them determines whether the infestation turns into a crisis or something that is dealt with swiftly. In this column, Fiona Charles explains how two hoteliers dealt with an infestation of some unwanted guests and the crisis management lessons she learned from the experience.

My partner and I recently stayed at a wonderful little coastal hotel in New England. The location was perfect, the room attractive and comfortable, and the view of a pretty little cove from our windows really delightful. Sue and George, the proprietors, had thought of everything for a delightful stay. The receptionist greeted us with afternoon tea and home-baked cookies, and a fire burning in the lounge fireplace welcomed us back from dinner. The staff had set out decanters of port and Madeira for us to enjoy along with a board game or book from the well-stocked shelves. It was all very pleasant, and we were charmed to be there for the last real night of our vacation, despite having to pay a room rate that blew our usual budget.

Before retiring for the night, I was sitting in bed uploading the day's photos onto my laptop. My partner, who had just settled down, said, "Oh dear, there's a ladybug in the bed. Can you get it?" I tried catching the bug, which was as large as a ladybug and about the same shape, but most definitely not a ladybug. It was rust colored and looked furry. The bug disappeared under the pillow I'd been propped against, so I lifted it and found half a dozen more! Without thinking, I shook the bugs off the pillow into the toilet and flushed it. But I was starting to think they must be something nasty, and when another one appeared, I caught it and threw it in to drown, but didn't flush.

We rushed downstairs and rang for the hoteliers. The word "bugs" was a powerful trigger that brought George out in his pajamas. In what seemed like seconds, the three of us were upstairs looking at the dead bug in the loo. George peered down and said, "Oh my God! That's a bedbug." While obviously horrified, George was very decisive. He moved us to the room next door, which was larger and more expensive. He asked us to shower and wash our hair before moving, to take only the clothes we absolutely needed, and to examine them carefully for more bugs. Meanwhile, he started disinfecting the infested room.

George and Sue worked diligently. The bedding and pillows were sealed in trash bags for disposal. They sprayed our luggage with a disinfectant, then bagged and sealed it. They didn't want us to take any bugs with us, either to another hotel or, even worse, home. After stripping the bed, Sue sprayed the wicker headboard. That's when we all saw movement—the bugs were hiding out in the spaces between the wicker fibers!

Eventually, we managed to fall asleep in our new room. At 8:00 the next morning, George phoned. He said that his pest control people were arriving in an hour, and they had a new protocol for dealing with bedbugs. George asked if we would be willing to meet with them, so we could be informed of the right steps to take to protect us from carrying the infestation. We accepted! The pest control people were draconian. They advised spraying the adjoining rooms as well as the infested room. They wanted the mattress destroyed. All our clothes would have to be washed in hot water and dried on high heat for at least forty-five minutes. Our luggage would have to be cleaned with a petroleum-based disinfectant. They also suggested that anything of ours that had been on the bed should be discarded.

Then they tore down the bed we had slept in to show us it was bug-free. They said they would never lie down in any hotel bed without first doing this. Again, Sue and George were decisive. They offered to wash and dry all our stuff and offered to replace anything that didn't survive the hot laundering, as well as anything we needed to throw out. Since we had to wait for the laundry, they suggested we go and explore a picturesque town nearby and buy the things we needed to replace immediately.

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