Mr. Meek

Security & Safety

The impact of Online Reviews When it Comes to Pests

By Frank Meek, International Technical & Training Director, Orkin, LLC

Whether five stars or no star, no hotel is immune to pests and the negative impact they can have on its reputation. With the soaring popularity of technology such as online blogs and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, Americans are more connected than ever, making it quick and easy for them to share a negative lodging experience with entire networks of people in the click of a "mouse".

When it comes to pests, hotel guests are concerned about the presence of pests in the establishments they frequent, and with good reason. Pests like flies can drop off dangerous bacteria every time they land, and rodents can carry diseases such as Salmonella and E. Coli. Not to mention, many people have reactions to the bites and stings of pests like wasps, ants, spiders and bed bugs.

Do hotel guests blog about pests?

To determine the frequency of pest mentions on travel and restaurant review blogs, as well as the resulting impact of these encounters on guests' loyalty, Orkin, Inc. conducted a study with international hospitality and linguistic experts John Crotts, Ph.D., and Peyton Mason, Ph.D. The study revealed that hotel patrons are in fact blogging about pests and they have "zero tolerance" for these uninvited guests.

Using the Google blog index, Crotts and Mason reviewed more than 3.2 million blog postings about U.S. hotels and restaurants for mentions of pest encounters in 2008. Then, they randomly selected and analyzed 500 blog narratives using language analysis - allowing the researchers to evaluate the impact of pest encounters on guests' loyalty to those hotels, motels and restaurants.

"Studies of other types of hotel service failures do not compare to the reaction guests have to pests. In virtually all of the blog narratives we reviewed, attempts of hotel management to remedy the situation had no effect on recovering guest loyalty," said Crotts, primary investigator for the study and professor of hospitality and tourism management at the College of Charleston. "Unlike a rude employee, a meal served cold, or a broken air conditioner, observing a pest was deemed a failure management could not overcome."

Out of 2.89 million hotel blog posts reviewed, more than 1 in 100 mentioned a pest in the narrative:

  • 61.5 percent of the pest mentions cited occurred at unrated and one- to two-diamond/star properties.
  • 27.3 percent of the pest mentions cited occurred at three-diamond/star properties.
  • 11.1 percent of the pest mentions cited occurred at four- to five-diamond/star properties.

Pest encounters lead to blog narratives that focus on the pest rather than other aspects of the hotel such as price and service. Words such as "awful," "dirty" and "disgusted" often appeared alongside pest mentions. In comparison, guests who did not encounter a pest at the same hotel were more likely to to write about other amenities and have a positive impression of the establishment and their room .

The study proves that it only takes one pest to cloud a guest's perception of a property. Says Crotts, "The presence of a pest in a single room casts a shadow over an entire property and implies to the countless consumers who look to travel blogs for recommendations that the entire facility is unclean or unhealthy."

According to Crotts, it is difficult to recover from a pest sighting. Even when management apologizes or provides some type of compensation for the incident, customers are reluctant to return. For all pests except flies at the pool, 100 percent of bloggers would not stay again at the property or recommend the hotel to others.

How should hoteliers respond?

These study results present an opportunity to take a close look at your pest management program and beef up proactive practices such as stringent sanitation and ongoing facility maintenance. These tactics support an Integrated Pest Management approach, which focuses on managing pests through a combination of non-chemical measures, relying on chemical treatments as a last resort and only then in the least volatile form.

Implement these simple sanitation and facility maintenance steps to help prevent pest issues in your hotel:

  • Keep all doors and windows closed and install air curtains or plastic strip near doors as an added barrier in frequently used service entrances and loading docks.
  • Seal unnecessary openings in the foundation with weather-resistant sealant. Mice can fit through holes as small as a dime, and rats only need an opening the size of a quarter to access a building.
  • Trim back vegetation from the side of the building to remove any pest harborage areas and entry ways. All shrubs and plantings should be at least two feet away from the building's perimeter to hinder pest access.
  • Clean up food and drink spills immediately and regularly remove food trays from hallways and guest rooms. Pests can make a feast out of even the smallest food particles.
  • In employee break rooms, keep food in tightly sealed containers and sink areas free of dirty dishes. Wipe down counters on a daily basis.
  • Thoroughly sweep and mop floors and use a vacuum to remove the dust and debris that can collect in cracks and crevices.
  • Monitor for any moisture leaks from appliances and HVAC units. Contact a maintenance professional to make the necessary repairs.
  • Remove trash from the hotel regularly and keep dumpsters as far away from the building as possible.

Your pest management professional can help you carry out these steps and implement proactive processes such as training staff to identify pest signs. Your employees should be your "eyes and ears" when it comes to pest management. It's critical that housekeeping and maintenance staff members are well versed in your property's pest "hot spots," or areas most likely to attract pests, including laundry, vending and dining areas, storage closets, and waste disposal zones. Employees should inspect these areas regularly and be able to identify signs of a pest infestation.

For example, small brown spots on mattresses can indicate the presence of bed bugs. Gnaw marks, droppings and exoskeletons are all evidence of potential pest infestations and should be taken seriously. Instruct your staff to notify you immediately if they suspect an infestation so that you and your pest management professional can take steps to control the problem before it becomes more severe.

With bed bugs continuing to plague hospitality establishments, make sure your housekeeping employees know your property's protocol if an infestation is discovered. Many reputable pest management providers offer free staff trainings to instruct employees on how to identify bed bugs and the steps they can take to help manage them.

Remember, it just takes one bad review to spoil your hotel's reputation. The pest management measures you take today will keep guests from having something negative to blog about tomorrow.

An industry veteran, Frank Meek has been with Orkin since 1986. In 2003, he was named among the future leaders of the pest management industry in Pest Control Technology magazine’s “40 Under 40” ranking. Currently, as the International Technical and Training Director, Mr. Meek provides technical support and training in both sales and service to Orkin's international franchises, helping them grow and develop in their specific markets. As a board-certified entomologist, Mr. Meek teaches Integrated Pest Management principles and can explain how to use all available methodologies to prevent pest infestations in various commercial settings. Mr. Meek can be contacted at 404-888-2898 or fmeek@rollinscorp.com Extended Bio...

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