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Short-Term Rental Hosts Contribute to Paris Bed Bug Outbreak, Not Americans

bedbugs
Dennis Pitcock
Written by Dennis Pitcock

In a fairly recent article, International Business Times goes on to explain how Paris went on to blame us Yanks for their bed bug problems. They’re wrong, for the most part.  The article goes on to say that Disneyland Paris noted a high correlation in the rise of bed begs with the rise of American guests, and then go on with the blame. Well they’re wrong. Shame on them for blaming their guests who are contributing to their revenue streams, and are just as much if not more of a victim they the hotels are. There are many facts to prove how they are wrong, and we elaborate on how.

One fact to consider is that flights to Paris have been on the cheap, perhaps the cheapest ever and this is bringing in a surge of budget savvy traveler of all ages, and yes, a lot of them are from the US. Another fact is that these budget savvy travelers are more inclined to book a short-term rental, especially those on the cheap side of the options available. Thirdly, very few if any Americans would travel directly to Disneyland Paris without seeing some of Paris that lies outside of Disneyland. It is a fact that Paris has a little more to offer than Orlando. Now consider that these guests stayed in the non-Disneyand Paris, or any other city on their way to Disneyland Paris, such as New York city, then is it obvious just how possible many of these Americans could have stayed in a short-term rental along the way.  This is where a major catalyst for the bud bug outbreak lies and we hostel processionals know exactly why.

Ton begin, I’d like to elaborate on who we hostel pros understand the budget savvy market segment very well, if not, the best out of all our hospitality peers. We know that the only loyalty members of this market segment show, are to their bank account or credit card balances, which unlike hedge-fund managers who monitor their portfolio balance, these people what small budgets to flex and are hit hard by bad decisions. We hostel pros know that a hostel guest today could be couchsurfing tomorrow, staying with friends of friends on Friday, camping over the weekend, Airbnb’ing it for a few days and then splurging at a spa resort the next week because they found a great deal. Don’t believe us, here’s some facts from a Phocuswright study directly about this brought to us by Hostelworld at their 2016 conference:

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Ok, so that’s hard to read. Sorry for that. For those who are wondering, the graph shows, in order from top to bottom that hostel guests have concerned the following options before booking their last hostel trip and the approximate percentage of those interviewed hold:

  • Economy Hotels (40%)
  • Inn/BnB’s (33%),
  • Midscale Hotels (33%),
  • A Room in a Private Home – aka Airbnb, Vacation Rentals by Owners – VRBO etc (20%),
  • Luxury Hotels (20%),
  • Home Apartment Rental – aka Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway etc (15%)
  • Camping/Campsite (10%).

The last line on the chart show our loyal customers who “Only Consider Hostels,” who are approximately 20%.  Now you can understand exactly why we’re used to these customers.  Now that’s hostel guests. Americans are not too familiar with hostels and prefer other options especially if we are older 30+ or are traveling as a couple which is quite common in Paris. What Americans are is more familiar with room renting and house sharing from our popular websites which include Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway. See below, see how operators on sites share the same problem as us hostel pros. Low to no loyalty. Actually, according the the chart provided by Phocuswright’s “Get Inside the Mind of an AirBnb Renter”, they are even more diverse in where than stay that our hostel guests.

Phocuswright-AccommodationsConsideredBeforeLastAirbnbBooking

So, what does this have to do with bed bugs? Well ask your next Airbnb host what they know about bed bug prevention, and you’ll understand. Hotels, and hostels for that matter, have been at war with bed bugs for decades. We understand a gram of prevention is worth a kilo of removal. We understand the standards in cleanliness that are to be upheld and the procedures that are to be done to minimize these pests from taking over. Sure there are exceptions, but overall, we learned about bed bugs the hard way, the short-term private rental and home share operators have not. The competition among them has gotten more fierce, and in high-demand destinations, they can skim on these standards and still get fairly decent reviews. They can make much more money renting a property or room out to tourists than to actual tenants, and worst of all, many of these operators have become hardened capitalists, not the friendly host that contributed to Airbnb’s rise to glory. Their revenue streams allowed them to operate more properties, driving up rental prices, which actually turned to many cities creating laws regulating or forbidding short-term rentals in general.

Even in cities with regulations on short-term renting, These laws are still in their infancy and don’t regulate the practices and procedures in cleaning as hotels and hostels are used to. Many of these rentals, the hosts are absentee and not around to help with issues and supervise the cleaning if done another person or company, compared to hotels and hostels that have on-site housekeeping staff to supervise and address issues immediately, delivering consistency and quality control. Here is the trouble point that we hostel pros know too well. A little slack in cleaning could lead to a big bed bug outbreak.

Take this 10-step scenario as an example how missing a simple vacuuming under the bed could lead to explosion of bedbugs:

  1. The guest, known as guest-zero, just finished a little glamping, not camping. He or she didn’t bring a tent, but stayed close to nature in a wood cabin on bungalow, which is the perfect environment for bed bugs to thrive. Guest-zero might have been the first guest of the season, but that didn’t matter for bed bugs can live longer than a year with no food. So, they feasted often and Guest Zero easily confused the bites for mosquitoes, and even took along a few adult bed bugs as stowaways in their luggage.
  2. Guest Zero now checked in to this short-term rental in a popular city booked on a popular website. AirBnb? VRBM? Booking.com Apartments? It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Guest Zero has brought along some uninvited guests.
  3. These pests found their way to escape the belongings of Guest Zero undetected and found a nice dark spot under the bed to call home, feeding on Guest Zero in a nightly ritual, nurturing themselves enough to lay some eggs while they were at it.
  4. Guest Zero checks out as usual, with or without any hitchhiking bed bugs going along for the ride.
  5. Now it’s the cleaner’s turn to do their duty and remove these eggs with standard cleaning practices but they have are under pressure from their short-term rental guru, having to do extra checkouts this day under the same time constraint. They have to clean 5 units instead of the average 3, with no extra help. So they round the corners and do not vacuum under the bed, saving a few extra minutes.
  6. The next guest arrives, checks in and is in town for a week. Unlike hotels and hostels, there is no daily cleaning of the unit during their stay, so a week is plenty of time for the bed bug eggs to hatch. Now there are bed bug nymphs that are able to get into the smallest of spaces, such as the seems of the mattress and any crack in particle board or unsealed wood.
  7. This guest doesn’t realize the nymph bites, as some people don’t, so they’re un-alarmed and check out as normal, taking a few more hitchhikers on to the next stage of their journey, or even home as an unwanted souvenir.
  8. The cleaner vacuums under the bed but it is too late. The nymphs are deeply entrenched in the room.
  9. There is no new guest checking in for another three days, so these young adults of bed bugs crawl in the cracks to find their way to a new victim in another room.
  10. The cycle continues at a faster rate with each check-in. Now these unwanted guests go from short-term rentals, to hotels, to hostels, and just about anywhere else given by the reports above, spreading the bed bugs on their way. Eventually one of these guests understands they’ve been bitten by bed bugs, but only blame the latest of their accommodations, which was bed bug free until their arrival, and the guest leaves good reviews for all the rest they were infecting.

That is why short-term rentals are the major cause for these outbreaks and will continue to play a role for some time to be. Please note that we were only talking about Americans addressing the Travel and Leisure article. Americans don’t play as large of a role in this as much as the French wish.  This report from Phocuswright’s “Sleep With Me, The Suprising Rise of Renting Shared Space” in 2015 shows we actually have a smaller percentage than much of the world. Look at the chart below. Now  you can really understand how this bed bug problem is spreading in Paris.SharedSpaceChartSo, who is the blame? Everyone. And while hotels and hostels are getting the most attention, all eyes need to be on the short-term rentals equally as much if not more. Everyone plays a part in this, and the solution is not simple. It is almost impossible to determine where to even to start. So here are some pointers that can help:

  • It is the host/operators duty to maintain their property and keep it pest free. They need to make sure their cleaners do their job and their furniture and facilities are not an easy hiding spot and breeding ground for bed bugs.
  • Short-term rental sites can offer advice for the proper prevention and cleaning procedures that minimize the risks of their guests getting bitten and their hosts’ properties getting infiltrated. Simple enough. Education and prevention will help to some degree.
  • Short-term rental sites could also educate their guests on how to spot signs of bed bugs to avoid them and eradicate them from their possessions as fast as possible. No ones wants to to be bitten often, and especially risk bringing them home.
  • Short-term rental sites can devise triggers from reviews and social media sentiment for certain geographic markets, and alert those markets of a probable rising pest problem along with proper ways to prevent and remove them. Perhaps even offer guests a warning ang guide as well. They could even partner with pest prevention and removal companies to get discounts for their hosts.
  • Some short-term rental sites do have guarantees for their hosts. Do these apply to bed bug infestations? Perhaps a host who could adequately prove the infestation came from such a website’s guests, then perhaps the website could be held liable. Proper removal of an infestation can cost thousands of dollars. Bed bug infestation could also spread to neighboring properties too. If somehow these hosts could get a court to ignore the hosts negligence in proper prevention and cleaning, a case could be made. Even if not, it could motivate these sites to consider something like the points mentioned above.
  • Guests, especially those staying on the cheaper side, really need to educated themselves in bed bug detection, removal (that they can do) and prioritize their inspections to be done upon arrival. They should even teach others how to do the same. It doesn’t matter what type of accommodation the choose.
  • Guests also need to make sure their hosts are aware of the problems immediately and they leave reviews mentioning bed bugs specifically on those hosts who deserve it. Finally, the cities, who found a way to tax but not regulate these short-term rentals, or even worse, who are so old-fashioned, bureaucratic and self absorbed that they are ignorant of the risks unregulated short-term rentals pose to their communities and tourists alike need to get up to speed and find a better way of regulating and preventing outbreaks from occurring in the future.

Do you still think Americans are the cause? What else could be? How do you think the solution helps? What else can be done? Feel free to leave your opinions in the comments below.

About the author

Dennis Pitcock

Dennis Pitcock

Dennis jumped into the hostel industry after a summer backpacking Europe in 2008. He went from being a guest to a manager within weeks, and currently does consulting for large and small hostels alike in 3 continents. Prior, he worked in eCommerce, so he has passion for the tech side of the industry and is now deeply entrenched in the hostel and activities industry.

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