Bed bugs are the bane of the hotel industry and the unblinking presence of social media has only increased the destructive power of the tiny pests.
Research from the University of Kentucky found that online reviews mentioning a bed bug infestation in a hotel room can lower the value of the room by $38 a night for business travelers and $28 a night for leisure travelers.
The study was based on a survey of nearly 2,100 travelers from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
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When compared with other hotel room problems, such as weird odors or dirty sheets, the discovery of bed bugs was most likely to prompt a guest to switch hotels, the survey found.
With the prevalence of online hotel review sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp, word of a bed-bug infestation can quickly spread. But the University of Kentucky study found that more than two-thirds of travelers were unable to tell the difference between a bed bug and other household insects.
That is a big problem for hotel operators, said Lynn Mohrfeld, president and CEO of the California Hotel and Lodging Assn. Often, he said, hotel guests will confuse a mosquito or spider bite for a bed-bug bite and post a negative review.
Mohrfeld advises hotel managers to respond to bed-bug complaints by hiring professionals to inspect the room of a complaining guest. Sometimes dogs are used to sniff out the bugs. If no bugs are found, he suggests that hotel operators post the findings on the same social media site where the complaint was posted.
"Hotels don't take this lightly at all," Mohrfeld said.
To read more about travel, tourism and the airline industry, follow me on Twitter at @hugomartin.