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. :)