Few things can cause more of a PR catastrophe for a hotel than a pest infestation. Aside from the obvious hygiene concerns, the modern consumer’s ability to impact a hotel’s reputation via negative online reviews means that a single cockroach can now, theoretically at least, bring down an entire hotel. In New Zealand’s competitive hospitality market, it’s more important than ever to stay on top of potential infestations and ensure that guests don’t stumble upon any unsightly roommates.

Jonathan Simes, who runs Auckland-based pest control company Smash’d Em, has seen his fair share of out-of-control infestations. “In my worst ever case, I moved a fridge out and on the wall in the shape of the fridge was a mass of German cockroaches. The kitchen was in a small apartment room, and it was just manic, it stunk. I had to spend six hours there, I was disgusted beyond belief.”

Jonathan Simes

Thankfully, there are precautions hoteliers can take to ensure their properties never succumb to such a dramatic infestation.

Food-handling areas are the most likely to attract pests, and as such should be treated with careful consideration. “Rats and rubbish should be the main concern for hoteliers,” said Simes. “Areas with food waste should be kept locked down and rodent-proofed, with bait stations providing a first level of security inside the room as well.” Keeping bins empty and surfaces clean helps to encourage rodents – whose presence is almost guaranteed – to enter bait traps, ensuring they are quickly taken care of.

Rodents aside, ants, flies, and German cockroaches are the main kitchen pests in New Zealand. Hygiene is of surprisingly little relevance when it comes to avoiding these critters. “Flies are flies, you can’t stop a fly from coming into a room. Cockroaches can come in with a random box of bananas, and before you know it you’ve got some German cockroaches in the kitchen.” The key, then, is maintenance and prevention, with regular inspections of ‘hot’ areas like fruit storage areas, cartons, and the areas behind fridges.

Simes recommends such inspections every six weeks to three months minimum, as well as installing fly-catching precautions such as a non-intrusive pesticide-coated surface or a wall-mounted fly unit, designed to attract and eliminate flies. “Everything is customisable, it’s all about whatever suits your basic needs.”

In the hotel room, pests like fleas can prove difficult to contain. An individual flea can lay up to 500 eggs in its lifetime, meaning the population can quickly explode. Introduce such a prolific breeder to a heavily trafficked property like a hotel, and it’s only a matter of time, as the insects jump on people to feed before jumping back off to either lay eggs or rest and grow. With cleaning staff moving from room to room, a few fleas in a single hotel room can quickly spread throughout the entire property. “Give fleas an edge and they’ll take over, especially in a hotel situation,” said Simes.

Though it’s a grim subject matter, the good news is that with the right precautions, there is no reason for a hotel to ever suffer a significant pest outbreak. The key lies in prevention. “It’s important to not make a place comfortable for a pest to live in. If you can’t do that, it’s about minimisation and catching them at the door. Regular pest management with detectors placed through all the rooms, inspected every quarter, will give you an idea of how things are moving, pest-wise, inside that complex. If you haven’t brought down your complaints to almost zero within a year, then there’s a deeper underlying issue that needs to be solved.”