Which hotels in NYC are bed bug free?
People ask this question all the time. In response, both these statements are probably true: a) there aren’t any, at any price point; and b) there are lots of bed bug free hotel rooms, everywhere, at every price point.
Also, if you google your own town and bedbugs, you may be surprised to find that bedbugs are already present wherever you live.
The point is that there are no official lists and a hotel room (like a theater) is only bed bug-free until the next guest/patron arrives.
There was one story this year reporting that people are cancelling trips to NYC because of bed bugs. The fact that bed bugs have been found in public places other than hotels seems to be what tipped the decision for one of the worried travelers quoted.
Like some anecdotes about people leaving the city altogether because of bed bugs, this is not surprising, but it is discouraging that the city’s CEO seems to wish it would all just go away. Don’t we all, Mr. Mayor.
Here I want to specifically call out The Miami Herald’s version of this story because it’s striking that they would run the AP story, report the obligatory statements of the local tourism bureaus, and not mention the most relevant facts in Florida, as we’ll see.
The recommended pre-booking routine, for those who are truly anxious, might look like this:
- check The Bedbug Registry to see if any good samaritan has made a report 1 2
- check the usual travel review sites for any reports
- avoid hotels with multiple recent reports or totally egregious stories (as they indicate a widespread or persistent problem)
- do not avoid hotels with single reports, rather ask the hotel manager about how they handle bed bugs — you may or may not get a good answer — and should the response turn out to be “we’ve never had bed bugs,” with or without indignation, it may be best to keep looking as:
- it’s not likely to be true
- if true, does it then mean that they are inexperienced in the types of bed bug control strategies we want to see hotels implement?
- keep in mind that room price is not a predictor of the bed bug status of a room
- arm yourself with knowledge about bed bug signs and prepare to inspect your hotel room when you arrive
I am a bit skeptical of the inspecting abilities of the average person who has never seen an actual bed bug (save for enormously magnified photographs), an actual bed bug fecal trace, an actual bed bug shed skin, to say nothing of bed bug eggs that, for example, look nothing like grains of rice, which is what people say when they see highly magnified photographs. For that matter, it’s possible that you would never make the apple seed comparison yourself, and yet it is already in your head after hearing it everywhere in relation to the color and size of adult bed bugs. Identifying a bed bug fecal drop or trace is a skill that takes professionals a long time to acquire. On and on.
But the type of information that consumers can access about hotels before making a booking decision is so limited that this is the only possible advice. Do some basic research online. Learn to inspect. Even if you are exposed to bed bugs away from home, you don’t have to bring them home. Certainty is not available at any price.
- Here is a video of David Cain inspecting a hotel room. When I pointed out that in most circumstances people really wouldn’t be able to do everything he did, he said that people can at least move the mattress slightly downward (instead of completely removing it as he does) to inspect the head of the mattress/box spring/headboard complex.
- And here is a video of Jeff White on avoiding highly-infested hotel rooms as reasonable objective. This view is widely held by professionals, that the risk of transferring bed bugs is higher in highly infested rooms, and who can gainsay it, but there is too much we don’t know about bed bug behavior to fully account for the risk at the lower end of the scale. 3
- And here is the travel FAQ at bedbugger.
But if there were official lists? Would they tell us more or more relevant facts?
Or, what if relevant information were available in, say, a guide book, so that hotels could be rewarded for having the right protocols:
- what is the bed bug control protocol?
- are the staff trained in identifying the signs of bed bugs?
- how does the hotel proceed upon receiving a report of bed bugs from a guest?
Would more complete information help you make a decision or would any mention of bed bugs scare you off completely?
In the future, perhaps every hotel room will have a bed bug monitoring device that guests will be invited to inspect before accepting the room…
Technically, the city should have some data on bed bug incidents in hotel rooms, because 311 accepts complaints from hotel guests. Few if any tourists or business visitors would know this, however, because this has not been publicized. I have yet to hear a single story about someone who complained to the city about finding bed bugs in a hotel room. I’m sure it’s happened. 4
It is suggested sometimes that the reason that NYC has been so slow to react to the bed bug problem is its dependence on tourism ($28.2 billion spent in 2009 by 45.6 million domestic and international visitors). I am not persuaded (though it is evidently true that many businesses are worried) but it is safe to say that NYC will never publicly identify bed bug-infested hotel properties.
Would it make any difference? What is the potential value of identifying specific hotels? These questions need not be rhetorical forever. With some time, some useful data 5 may emerge — but not in NYC.
There has been some great reporting in Florida.
First there was a strange situation where Florida state inspectors would not actually enter the room to inspect for bed bugs. (Read the story for the number and link to file a complaint with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s Division of Hotels and Restaurants.)
Enforcement went up with the pressure of complaints and this summer The Sun Sentinel published the 2010 violations list. (Here is the accompanying story.)
The list is searchable by county, name, address… but it’s a short list (52) and you can see it all in one page.
The reports are fascinating and the existence of a public list itself, thought-provoking:
Observed live vermin. 40-50 bed bugs in room 104.
Observed live vermin. / found 2 live bed bugs in room 333/ one on the hallway floor near bathroom & one in between seam of mattress./ headboard side.
Observed live vermin. Bed Bugs in room 660 at Chatteu Tower. This violation must be corrected by : 28 July 2010.
Observed bed bug like droppings on mattresses. room 132, 134 Repeat Violation. Repeat Violation.
I’m trying to write about many things while I’m back but it’s a bit slow going. Also, my project which I haven’t even told you about is stalled, so this experiment may not last. Anyway, some notes about some research published this year will be next, with a look back, because that’s how we like to look at things.
- And see the hotels light up yellow in this visualization of Bedbug Registry data. [↩]
- Yes, there is a need for caution and not everyone thinks most people are making reports out of a desire to help others. It is the internet we all mostly love. In NYC, I find reading the bed bug reports in apartments very affecting and revealing. [↩]
- Girault didn’t tell us if he took any bed bugs home. [↩]
- These numbers are likely to be small [see the FY 2010 311 bed bug calls that include hotels and SROs, without differentiating between the two, which nevertheless show a 50% rise from the year before (PDF)] and—this is the only thing people care about—will never, ever identify a particular hotel property. What is more interesting is how such complaints are handled. Who inspects? How much time elapses between the report and the inspection, if there is one? Always questions. [↩]
- I think this is the only analysis of infestations in hotels that we have (PDF), from an industry source at about the midpoint of the current upsurge, or whatever you prefer to call it. [↩]