Online program aims to turn bed bugs into positives for hotels

MILLSBORO, DE—Now, there’s virtual training for a very real problem: bed bugs. As an industry epidemic, one company aims to change the way hotels approach the concern.

Through an online-only program, NOBBEL Inc.—the National Organization of Bed Bug Education for Lodging—offers bed bug certification for both properties and employees.

The program offers training and testing, including bed bug detection, an inspection process, a standard operating procedure for staff and treatment options. The program is made up of online videos for full-time staff, including housekeeping, front-desk employees and engineering teams.

“We’re trying to pull everyone together,” said Kurt Herring, national training director for NOBBEL Inc. “Right now, bed bugs are a bad word, but they’re here, we have them, everybody has them.”

The certification level achieved depends on the amount of participation from the staff. One person must participate for a bronze certification, 25% staff participation for silver, 50% for gold and 100% participation for platinum, Herring said.

The videos take approximately 40 minutes to watch and are followed by a 25-question test; employees need at least an 80% to pass.

Certifications are property-wide as well as personal, meaning that employees are individually certified and can take those credentials with them should they move to another property.

The hotel staff is required to renew certifications every two years; however, NOBBEL contacts properties annually for a list of new or turnover employees to add to the system and start training or renewing staff. This helps keep operations up to date and employees well-informed.

“[Sometimes] you go to a hotel and report a bed bug problem, and they look at you like they have no idea where to go from there,” said Michele Berdelle, president of NOBBEL Inc. “This was our way of getting them involved in that and getting a process together.”

Berdelle has 20 years of experience in the field, 10 of which are in her own bed bug remediation company, utilizing canine inspection and heat treatments to combat the critters.

Along with the certification, employees are given a script to follow on how to handle guests’ inquiries about bed bugs and answer these questions professionally. This includes what to say during the check-in process, during a guest’s stay or after a guest checks out and calls back to the hotel.

“We’re trying to put a positive spin on what we all know is a huge negative in the industry,” Herring said. “The uniqueness of our program and the way we go about that is that our certified properties are listed online; you can search by zip code and by property name. We’re in more than 20 states and across 20-plus brands.”

NOBBEL Inc. encourages open communication between employees and guests.

Herring said that NOBBEL is bringing the hotel together with guests by providing its site as a resource, giving travelers a place to do research about bed bugs and feel better about booking rooms, especially with the proliferation of negative online reviews regarding both the bed bug problem itself and how employees handle the situation.

In fact, Herring said that many employees are surprised by how little they know about a topic they thought they were well versed on.

“They [employees]said they thought they were well-informed about bed bugs, but we taught them quite a bit more,” Herring said. “Oddly enough, the biggest thing that we’ve heard is when we get into the biology of bed bugs, they had no idea the staying power they [bed bugs]have.”

Berdelle said that the hotel staff members don’t always take the time to check rooms thoroughly for bed bugs or aren’t exactly sure what they’re looking for.

The biggest mistake she sees employees making, however, is thinking that they can handle bed bugs on their own. While the NOBBEL program educates, tests and trains, the program is designed to work hand-in-hand with pest control companies.

“We’re all becoming one,” Berdelle said. “It’s the guest who’s checking in, the people at the hotel and pest control company who are all joining together.”

The hotel staff appreciates this unity and recognizes the advantages being certified has, especially when it comes to online reviews. Herring said that one of the best pieces of feedback he received was from a GM in Ocean City, MD, who said that this certification is one of the greatest tools in terms of public relations for the property.

“Our biggest fight is to open the ears of the general managers and owners of these properties and teach them that bed bugs aren’t bad words—they can actually create consumer confidence,” Herring said.

While it may not be the first topic guests want to discuss, it’s important for hotels to acknowledge that it is a topic and a problem that won’t go away on its own.

“The hotel industry looks at this as bed bugs are hush-hush, but it’s actually surprising and eye-opening to see what the guests actually feel about bed bugs,” Berdelle said.

NOBBEL gives hotels reminders to follow up with pest control companies and verifies that the properties are logging and keeping the results of the inspections. This type of hands-on training not only gives hotel staff members the confidence they need to handle inquiries, but guests the comfort they need to come back to a hotel time and time again.

“We can’t guarantee that these hotels are never going to have bed bugs,” Berdelle said. “But what we can guarantee is that they’re going to know how to handle it and handle the client.”

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