23 Jul2009

My post on “Bed Bugs at The Marco Polo Gateway” that I wrote on July 9, 2009 resulted in a lot of reader response, both in the form of comments and in page views, an indicator that the topic is something that interests/offends/attracts/repels folks. It is also a post that seems to have been picked up by an unusually large number of other internet sites, whether bed bug related, hotel and travel related, or just folks who read marketmanila.com and felt compelled to link to that particular post. When I wrote it, the bed bug bites were fresh on my arm, as the photo indicated, but I frankly had little idea just how much information I would be bombarded with and then personally seek out in the days that followed. I have also personally met with a very senior executive of the Marco Polo Hotels Group and received their official response which I will detail below. But first, some background is in order, if only to HELP YOU AVOID the same fate:

1. The bed bug problem in hotels (Apartments, Homes, Dorms, etc.) worldwide is a real, current and relevant issue for travelers…

Just a DAY after I wrote my post, no less than the New York Times published an article entitled “Sleeping With The Enemy (Bed Bugs)” by Walecia Konrad, that sought to HELP folks trying to get rid of the pests. Just three days later, another article by Joe Sharkey entitled “A Pest From Yesteryear, Bed Bugs Travel Nowadays” appeared in the International Herald Tribune, a respected global paper, also incidentally, owned by The New York Times. It’s such a “hot topic,” that the Times Online has no less than 21 referenced articles under the “subject” of bed bugs, click here. Some googling will get you dozens of articles about bed bugs in several major national and international newspapers around the world. So basically, it is an issue. My case was less than isolated and bizarre.

2. Some Factoids/Background Information About Bedbugs sourced mostly from on-line articles, bed bug sites, links provided by readers, etc. I tried to sift through a lot of information, and all of this is gleaned from internet sources, and not at all meant to gross you out, but to inform so you are better prepared in similar situations):

– Bed Bugs can be as tiny as half a pinhead and nearly clear at birth, to a maximum of 4mm in width or length when engorged with blood. They can look like a tick.
– Female bed bugs can give birth to as many as 2 baby bed bugs per day, for up to a year, so in theory, a lusty lass can have as many as 700+ offspring in the span of a year if left unchecked. And given that some of those kids are going to get frisky as well, it is in fact conceivable that a “small” bed bug problem can blossom into a full force infestation in a matter of weeks or months without aggressive action to get rid of them.
– Bed bugs tend to hide in pretty hard to get to places, prefering mattresses with tears or holes so they can go deep within, headboards, carpets, crevices of furniture, plug and switch receptacles, etc. They like to live near where they feed, so they don’t have to travel more than a few feet to a succulent neck, arm, back, butt or thigh.
– Bed bugs come out specifically to FEED ON PREFERABLY SLEEPING HUMAN BEINGS. And they are most active deep in the night, say within 1-3 hours of dawn, when most folks tend to be fast asleep.
Bed Bugs DO NOT have to feed daily, in fact they can feed every few weeks or even months. If they have no access to human or pet blood, they can go without a meal for as long as a YEAR.
– Bed bugs do not go out on “strolls” as ants might or mosquitoes that buzz around tend to do. They go out with purpose and otherwise hide.
– They seem to elicit shrieks of disgust from many as they conjure up images of little draculas, sucking on one’s blood.
– In fact, they don’t seem to spread disease, and only 1 out of 3 humans seem to react strongly to their bites, but they can be quite the nuisance. Depending on the person, one reacts to the bed bugs from an hour to a day or two AFTER they are bitten.
– When there is a huge infestation in an area, some tell-tale signs appear, like little blackish or brownish spots on mattresses or headboards appear, and to put it bluntly, that’s bedbug poop. Also, if you wake up from an evening and are itching all over, inspect your sheets to see if there are little “bursts” of blood, that occur when you swat the itchy buggers in your sleep or roll over while they are loading up. They get crushed and blood stains the sheets.
Bed bugs travel readily, and the volume of guests in hotels coming from near and far are a reason hotels are such strong “vectors” for the bugs.
– Bed bugs are NOT an indicator of unclean hotels or homes, as they seem to strike 5-star to ratty motels, but they do indicate sloppy housekeeping as the best hotels have trained their staff to identify signs and act swiftly. But I suspect personally that hotels with older rooms and lots of potential hiding places are probably at a higher risk.
– Hotels in North America and elsewhere appear to be somewhat partially blaming the return of bedbugs on less potent insecticides and pesticides, ever since the banning of DDT, etc.
– Real or imagined, deserved or overrated, there is a STIGMA to having bedbugs on the premises, be it at your hotel, home or apartment.
– Bedbugs in hiding are WICKEDLY hard to find, and they are rather difficult to eradicate. If insecticides or other chemical agents are applied, the bed bugs must come into direct contact with the agents to get killed. If they do not come out of their hiding places, they could and often do survive an onslaught.
High heat is one of the best ways to get rid of bedbugs. Air dryers are mentioned on several websites.
– Bed bugs in one room can transfer to other rooms on the same floor, and theoretically go up or down vertically as well, infesting whole buildings if not controlled.
– There are dozens of websites with hundreds of photos and additional factoids on bed bugs if you are interested.

3. How Sure Are We That The Bites Actually Occurred Inside Our Rooms at The Marco Polo Gateway?

I have thought about this in much more detail. The short answer is I am pretty darned sure the bites came from our rooms at the Marco Polo Gateway, though I cannot be 100% certain since I didn’t catch the bed bugs en flagrante or in the act of sucking my blood.

– I react to insect bites quickly, and I noticed the itchy bed bug bites around 10 am the morning after our first night at the Marco Polo Gateway. I got more bites on my backside later in the stay at the hotel.
– Our corporate lawyer, staying in another room, noticed his bites two nights after we arrived at the hotel.
– Our office manager, in yet another room on the same floor of the hotel, got her bites two nights after we arrived as well.
– We all rode Cathay Pacific Airways to HK, on a midday flight. We sat all over the economy class cabin. There is a slight chance we got bitten there, but it appears highly unlikely due to the time of day (not a feeding time, though bed bug jetlag is plausible if absurd), the fact that we were mostly awake, the vacuuming of seats that goes on between flights, and the timing of the bites manifesting themselves on our bodies.
– Prior to that, we all slept in different cities and homes just prior to the Hong Kong trip, one of us coming from Tagbilaran, another from Cebu, and me from Manila.
– In all cases, there were other guests in the three affected hotel rooms, but only ONE PERSON per room was bitten.
– We have absolutely no reason to fabricate the bites and the photos are our proof of bites, and a physician confirms that they are most likely bed bug bites. So you have me, a lawyer, and an office manager with bites. In fact, we were dumb enough not to even mention them to the hotel staff at the time. And only belatedly on the way to the airport decided to write to hotel management.

4. What was the hotel’s response to my letter of complaint?

I wrote a four or five page letter to the General Manager of the hotel, which was ultimately raised to and handled by the VP of Operations of the entire Marco Polo Hotel Group based in Hong Kong. The letter raised several issues aside from the bedbug issue, and these were all settled FULLY to my satisfaction. I won’t get into the other topics raised, but suffice it to say their response absolutely acknowledged that I had identified factual, valid and serious points and they responded in the most comprehensive manner. I was suitably satisfied that it was absolutely worth my while to write the letter and get the appropriate responses from senior management.

And for those of you who read the first post on bed bugs and thought I simply “had it out” for the hotel and was just being mean, let me make one thing crystal clear. My family and I have been very LOYAL and FREQUENT guests at Marco Polo Hotels, and we figure that in the past four years we have personally stayed or caused other corporate guests to stay, a MINIMUM of 300 total room nights at Marco Polo Hotels, 98% of that on business. So this Hong Kong hotel stay most certainly was NOT a one off situation, and nobody, myself or the hotel chain in question, was going to take this issue lightly. And yes, for the 280+ room nights we spent at the Marco Polo Plaza in Cebu, we have NEVER experienced a similar experience with bed bug bites.

As far as my complaint regarding the bed bugs, I was fortunate to be in Cebu the following week, staying at the Marco Polo Plaza, and the senior manager from Hong Kong I had communicated with also happened to be there, so we were able to sit down face to face to discuss the concerns. After they received my letter, they immediately asked their current fumigation/pesticide company to do an inspection of the three rooms where our group had sustained bites. The Senior Manager showed me the letter from their fumigation company (via email, on his iphone) that basically said they found “no evidence of bed bug infestation.” The Senior Manager also stated that they then engaged another fumigation/extermination company who also did not find any evidence of bed bug infestation and I suppose, did not find any actual bed bugs. Frankly, I believe the findings. Why? Because I have no reason to believe that they would tell me anything but the truth. Just as I would not fabricate the bed bug bites on my arm, back and those of my work colleagues. The Senior Manager assured me that they would fumigate and treat the rooms and hoped that no one else would get bitten. He mentioned that there were no hotel “logs” that recorded guest complaints of bed bug bites, but following this complaint, they had asked front desk personnel to start logging all such complaints. Again, I will reiterate that I have full confidence that Marco Polo management did look into the bed bug complaint and that they were very forthcoming and candid with me in our discussions.

So there you have it. Three of us had bed bug bites after staying in the Gateway Hotel. The hotel’s extermination companies found “no evidence” of bed bugs. And they then treated the three rooms to two rounds of “intensive chemical treatments” to rid them of any pests. Just as certain as I am that I got my bites in the hotel, they are equally certain that they found no culprits. So while I have not captured any live or dead suckers during our stay, so too can they NOT deny that the bites occurred in their hotel rooms.

Once the senior manager had returned to Hong Kong, he did promise to send me a formal letter and I did receive an email from him two days ago. The hotel management, in writing, clarifies that inspections were done and chemical treatments pursued, but the letter does not spell out in writing the “findings” of their extermination companies. They did, however, verbally offer to send me copies of the letters from their exterminating companies but I said it was not necessary as I had no reason to doubt their honesty.

In closing, senior management of the Marco Polo Gateway and the Hotel Group in total, in writing offered this, and I quote:

“As a gesture of goodwill and redemption for our serious shortfalls you had experienced by our fellow colleagues at the Gateway Hotel, we would like to extend to you a complimentary 2-night stay at a suite in the Gateway as well as a 2-night stay at the Marco Polo Cebu in your preferred accomodation.”

I responded by thanking the senior manager for his time and thorough handling of the issues raised, but declined to accept the complimentary suite as we are not likely to travel to Hong Kong again in the near future. Personally, I am not inclined to return to the Marco Polo Gateway in the near future after this bed bug experience and their inconclusive extermination company findings. There are several other hotels in Hong Kong from the 5 star Mandarin Oriental to the budget YMCA Salisbury next to the Peninsula where I have stayed and not been feasted on by bed bugs. I realize this could have been an unfortunate isolated incident, but I don’t take unnecessary risks. Three folks bitten in three different rooms on the same floor of a hotel is too coincidental for me, the numbers guy.

For those of you who do travel frequently, and are a bit put out by all of this bed bug talk, here are some of my suggestions to help avoid the problem and how to handle bites if you do get them.

1. Check on the internet if there are any on-line complaints about bed bugs at the hotel you are intending to stay in. Sites like Travel Advisor, etc. do have dozens and dozens of posts about bed bug issues at hotels. There is even a “bed bug registry” for U.S. hotels. If you check blogs, try to weigh the credibility of the complainant. You might be surprised by the frequency of complaints about some popular hotels, like at theme parks… And if you are really concerned, read several of the links I provided earlier so you are better informed.
2. When booking rooms, ask the reservations people DIRECTLY if they have had any complaints from guests in recent weeks regarding bed bug bites. Upon arrival at the hotel, ask the front desk personnel if they keep a log of guest complaints about bed bug bites in the hotel. If yes, ask if there have been any complaints about the room you have been specifically assigned. By asking this bluntly, they will have to make a choice to disclose previous issues candidly, or choose to lie. The latter is a problem legally in future if you do get bitten; at least in places like the U.S. that have had several bouts of actual or threatened litigation due to bites.
3. When you get to the room, inspect your bed. Take off the sheets, look for evidence of bed bug poop stains, etc. Look closely at the headboards, etc. Try and keep your suitcases raised off the carpeted floor. Or better yet, leave them on the marbe or tiled area that some rooms have near the doors.
4. Mosquito or bug repellant rubbed on your skin before sleeping DOES NOT appear to deter bed bugs. If you are getting paranoid, definitely wear snug briefs not boxers, wear long pajamas and put rubber bands around the bottoms of the legs so only your feet are exposed. Wear socks if that bothers you. But the downside of all of this is that your scalp, neck and face will be the only meat exposed, and you have a higher probability of getting bites there instead.
5. If you get bites and rashes that seem worse than standard mosquito bites, look up be bug bites to see if there is a possible similarity. Get out of the room or ask for an immediate transfer. Log the complaint with the front desk. Take photos of the bites. Write a complaint letter. It may get you no where, but at least the hotel will have a chance to eradicate the buggers if they are serious about staying in business. For the benefit of other travellers, definitely SPEAK UP. SILENCE HERE is a disservice to you, the hotel and future guests.
6. Best of all, just hope you are one of the vast majority of hotel guests who DO NOT GET BITTEN (or don’t react adversely to bed bug bites) at all. But when you do get bitten, now you are all just a little bit better prepared to deal with it.

So good night, and don’t let the bedbugs bite. :)

On the bright side, I sure learned a great deal about bed bugs over the past two weeks! And no, I don’t in the least regret writing about the experience on this blog.

I am away for a few days on an unplanned trip, without my laptop (or access to email) that is either having a midlife crisis or a nervous breakdown. Thank goodness it is fully backed up. Maybe it just needs a holiday from blogging. :)

 

COMMENTS:

  1. Mia says:

    hi marketman,
    i received the same letter/reply from HK disney hollywood hotel saying that they called their pesticide company to do an inspection of the nine rooms we stayed in and said that they found “no evidence of bed bug infestation.”
    hotels admitting to having bedbugs would lead to “winable” lawsuits. why have proof of guilt?
    will be traveling soon. will bring bedbug spray, knee socks, and oil. a doctor said if your ankles are very oily, bedbugs will have a hard time biting you. will see if it works.
    =)

    Jul 23, 2009 | 11:15 pm

     
  2. iris says:

    There’s a bed bug conspiracy! Kidding aside, I wish that all hotels handle incidents like this in the same manner as Marco Polo did.

    Will be inspecting hotel beds more thoroughly next time we travel. Thanks for the tips, MM. :)

    Jul 24, 2009 | 12:01 am

     
  3. fortuitous faery says:

    well done, MM!

    Jul 24, 2009 | 12:15 am

     
  4. Lilibeth says:

    Thank you MM for all these useful information! That’s why I like your blog – we learn about so many things because it’s more than just about food.

    Jul 24, 2009 | 1:06 am

     
  5. maddie says:

    My cousin who works in a Vegas hotel says that bed bugs are most often found deep within the piping or buried in the stitches around the edge of the mattress. When they clean and disinfect the room after occupancy, this is the first place they check for bugs as far as the mattress is concerned.

    Jul 24, 2009 | 2:20 am

     
  6. Tina says:

    Hi. I am a regular reader of your blog but it is only now that I thought of leaving a comment as this is the topic I can very much relate to. We are dealing with Bed Bugs issues in our aprtment right now and I tell you, Bed Bugs are not an easy thing to deal with. The bites are nasty, nasty. They itch like crazy! They are nasty, nasty!! We will have a meeting with our apartment manager about it this weekend. For the meantime we are using Tea Tree Oil spray and Lysol disinfectant and vacumm every single day.

    Jul 24, 2009 | 2:40 am

     
  7. LAflip says:

    I’ve worked in the hospitality industry for over 15 years. Like what Maddie says, look closely in between the mattress’ seams and box spring. A bed bug infestation on a mattress is clearly visible.

    There are two things everyone should do/check when they stay at a hotel:

    1) Immediately remove the duvet/bed covers. Since the covers are so heavy; hotels do not wash them regularly as it cost too much to wash them daily. Some of these bed covers can go on months without being washed. Think about an average of 2 – 4 different persons staying at a hotel room every week. That’s a minimum of 15-20 people sleeping on the same bed spread per month! Who knows what these people (ehem!) do when they are in bed!
    2) Bathrooms: Check the sink, bath tub, shower heads and floor. These should all be clean, tiles with no soap scum, etc. Same concept as the duvets/be covers: an average of 2-4 different people using the bathroom!

    When it comes to hotel room cleanliness, most major international brands are consistent (ie: Hilton, Sheraton, Marriott and Westin, but one thing everyone should do is check the beds and bathrooms.

    Jul 24, 2009 | 2:53 am

     
  8. sister says:

    LaFlip’s suggestion of removing the bedcovers in hotel rooms asap is very helpful. I always was wary of those hotel bedspreads which clearly had not been laundered in between occupants and some hotel have dispensed with them altogether (Marriott for example) just leaving a strip of fabric at the bottom of the bed, with exposed sheets. Even at home I wash all the sheets, bedcovers, quilts and comforters in between house guests and also because of the dog snuggling on top of them. I think if I found bedbugs I would just move out. Even mice are easier to eradicate.

    Jul 24, 2009 | 7:19 am

     
  9. sanojmd says:

    thanks for the update MM.. 3 individuals being bitten by bedbugs on the same room, same hotel, same dates, i don’t bite it.. este buy it…lol

    Jul 24, 2009 | 7:30 am

     
  10. bed bugs says:

    Bed bugs, bed bugs, what you gonna do with bed bugs???

    Jul 24, 2009 | 11:08 am

     
  11. millet says:

    ewwww….my skin is crawling again. wondering now if i should wear a space suit to bed.

    Jul 24, 2009 | 12:10 pm

     
  12. ghia says:

    que horror! this is scary.

    Jul 24, 2009 | 1:29 pm

     
  13. bearhug0127 says:

    MM, thanks for the update on this incident of the “bed bugs”. i agree with mia’s comment that no hotel will admit that they have bed bugs in their rooms. thanks for the tips, too.

    Jul 24, 2009 | 6:15 pm

     
  14. jade186 says:

    Thank you, MM. :)

    Jul 25, 2009 | 12:49 am

     
  15. rhia says:

    we have also this problem in our room. can you give me some tips on how to get reed of this pest.

    Jul 25, 2009 | 1:43 am

     
  16. Netoy says:

    MM – thanks for all the info about bedbugs. Hopefully, I will not have to experience what you have gone through. Just a note though, perhaps you were talking about tripadvisor.com rather than Travel Advisor in your blog? I too find the reviews on this website very useful.

    Jul 25, 2009 | 2:04 am

     
  17. Paula says:

    Hey MM,

    Just wondering if you’ve ever posted something about dimsum? :P

    Jul 25, 2009 | 3:33 am

     
  18. Netoy says:

    In addition to what LAflip wrote: studies have shown that the dirtiest thing you have in your hotel room is the TV REMOTE CONTROL! Imagine how many hands have touched that contraption (and perhaps you do not want to know what else those hands have touched – you’re in a hotel room, remember?!!). Others have brought disinfectant wipes with them to use in wiping this (plus the telephone, door handles, refrigerator handles). If you do not have one, always bring a ziploc bag with you big enough to accomodate the remote control, place the RC in it and use away….

    Jul 25, 2009 | 4:13 am

     
  19. maria says:

    What if it weren’t even the beds that harbored the bedbugs? It can easily just have been from certain seats in the shuttle that you took from the airport to the hotel?

    Jul 25, 2009 | 9:14 am

     
  20. Lava Bien says:

    Good info!

    Jul 25, 2009 | 3:50 pm

     
  21. atbnorge says:

    Hi MM, I’ll go poetic about the bedbugs; this is the first poem I have ever memorized in my entire life—taught by Tatay.
    Here it goes:

    Ang Surot (Bow)
    Isang gabi,
    Ako’y natutulog;
    Lintik na surot
    Susundot-sundot;
    Sa lakas ng sundot
    Ako’y napa-utot.
    Lintik na surot,
    Namatay sa bantot! (Bow)

    I hate them—your reaction to the bite was a bit late. Just reading your blog about these critters make me itch all over. But catching them en flagrante—so you have evidence to go along with the complaint—is my thing. Yes, the others were right, these bugs stay at the seams and you have to put your limb or extremities as live bait in order for them to go out of their nooks and crannies so they could feast on you. Speaking from experience, I don’t think they have a fixed feeding time because I was bitten in the afternoon while I was at my aunt Eva’s house and I experienced the discomfort at once because I had red spots in clumps at the back of my thighs just after sitting on a sofa. The sofa, my cousin told me, was given to them by aunt Tessie just a week ago. I and my cousin placed our arms on the sofa just near the front seam of the seat—then lo and behold! The critters came out to feed. They seemed to like my blood better than my cousins because she got just two bites whilst I got at least ten. Aunt Eva jokingly said to aunt Tessie that maybe the reason why the latter gave the sofa away was to get rid of the bedbugs. Aunt Tessie reacted, “Are you accusing me of being unclean in my house?”. A tiff ensued and the sisters didn’t talk to each other for more than a decade…That’s my bedbug story, bow.

    Jul 25, 2009 | 9:53 pm

     
  22. Marketman says:

    maria, we took three different taxi cabs from the HK airport to the hotel, and the three people bitten rode in three separate cabs.

    Jul 26, 2009 | 2:15 pm

     
  23. thelma says:

    atbnorge, you made me laugh. that’s a very nice and very funny poem…and it rhymes, too!!!

    Jul 27, 2009 | 11:09 am

     
  24. Jason says:

    Hindi ko alam kung nakagat na ba ako ng surot pero kung papipilin eh ayoko ng kwarto amoy baygon….

    Jul 27, 2009 | 11:58 am

     
  25. tanya says:

    Because your previous post gave me major heebie-jeebies I’ve been going nuts trying to find a way to kill bed bugs, especially since my husband and I travel a lot.

    I bought a portable UV wand that (supposedly) kills bed bugs and major germs and bacteria in preparation for a trip to HK with my family. Although the hotel we’re staying in has never had any complaints regarding bed bugs, and is relatively new, one can never be too safe eh?

    I get major allergic reactions to insect bites so I’m not taking any chances!

    Jul 27, 2009 | 6:43 pm

     
  26. Marketman says:

    tanya, may I ask where you got the portable UV wand? And after your trip, can you tell us if it seems to work? :)

    Jul 27, 2009 | 8:20 pm

     
  27. lui says:

    visit tripadvisor.com. updated hotel ratings from actual guests. fold way the thick bed cover,for reasons stated in an earlier entry. just ask for additional heavy blankets.bring disinfecting wipes,10-12 sheets in a ziplock bag.they’ll be handy for phones,door handles,fridge, microwave,side tables,toilet and light switches.use the ziplock on the TV remote ala Netoy.not all hotels have CO detectors, thus i always have one in my bag( plug in type). As for bed bugs, keep a handy spray in the house. apply it on travel bags when you get home. keep bags in the garage, porch or yard for a few days. carefully inspect bags before bringing them in. wash clothes in hot water. bedbugs infestations are on the rise because of increased travel all over the world.

    Jul 28, 2009 | 11:26 am

     
  28. diday says:

    millet , same as when someone mentions ‘koto’ – the head starts to itch. The space suit to bed when staying in hotels is an excellent idea. Highly recommended after reading the comments.

    Jul 29, 2009 | 9:31 pm

     
  29. atbnorge says:

    Nice to be here again, MM. I love this blogsite.

    Hei Thelma—my pleasure to share that poem. I have a five-year-old nephew who can recite that with such “feelings”!

    I also heard from my oldies when I was a little girl—I hope it is not just old wives’ tale—that lansones peelings deter bedbugs.

    Jul 30, 2009 | 11:24 pm

     
  30. tanya says:

    Hi Market Man:

    You can order them online from Amazon. The brand we got was Verilux. It’s a 2-piece set — there’s a big wand for home use (with AC adapter and rechargeable batteries), and a smaller one (battery powered) that’s for travel. Seriously, it was your post that made me start looking for one and I sure am glad we found one. It does play too much into my OC tendencies and I’ve been UV-ing our bed and other things since I got it. :-)

    I’ll let you know how it fares on our trip this September.

    Aug 3, 2009 | 10:33 pm

     
  31. Andrea Durrheim says:

    Thank-you for your most inspiring and informative article. It has inspired me to write a complaint to the airline I’ve just travelled on. I won’t go into the nitty gritty, but I was able to collect a ‘sample’ in a glass and hand it to the cabin crew and have demanded a follow up report .They did apologise and move my daughter and I and were hugely embaressed and repulsed by my findings.It was in the Business class and it is the second time I’ve been bitten, so when I smelt the musty smell I knew exactely what it was.My first time was about 12 years ago in a five star hotel in Dubai, which goes to echo what most people have said about them not being fussy about their customers. Thanks again and I’m off to go and take photos of my war wounds…

    Aug 30, 2009 | 2:09 pm

     
 

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