Bedbug claims: considerations for tour operators

Recent headlines are causing panic across London about an invasion of bedbugs crossing the channel from France.

The bedbug issue is nothing new in the travel sector, but with more coverage in the media, people are becoming more aware of how to spot these tiny insects, and more importantly, how to claim compensation. A quick Google search will bring up dozens of law firms willing to take a case where someone has been unfortunate enough to have these unwelcome guests in their hotel room.

What are bedbugs?

Bedbugs are small insects. The adults are around the size and shape of an apple seed. You may see their shed skins, whitish eggs or newly hatched nymphs. Droppings may also appear as dark spots.

Masters at hiding, bedbugs will hide themselves in cracks and joins in bedframes and other furniture, aeroplane seats and cinema seats, under loose wallpaper and behind skirting boards. They are not only restricted to the mattress.

They do not jump or fly, but can crawl quite quickly. They are excellent hitchhikers, transferring between properties by hiding in suitcases and clothing. There is a stigma surrounding bedbugs that they are often associated with dirty or unhygienic surroundings, but this is not the case. Even the cleanest homes will struggle to get rid of an infestation without professional help. Regular cleaning, however, can help spot them sooner.

What is the law?

As with any other personal injury claim, if a guest is bitten by bedbugs in a hotel that is part of a package holiday, the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements 2018 will apply and a claim can be brought against the tour operator in the UK.

Liability is not strict. The hotel has a duty to provide ‘reasonable skill and care’. The duty is on the claimant to prove that the hotel has breached this duty. They should be doing this by obtaining a report from a suitable local standards expert setting out what the hotel is required to do under the regulations and standards of the country in which they are located.

Proving the presence of bedbugs

The first step in a successful claim is proving that the culprit of any bites is actually a bedbug. Savvy claimants tend to take photographs of any insects they find crawling on the bed, However, the lack of a confirmed sighting does not mean their presence cannot be proven. Bedbug bites also have a particular appearance, tending to be linear or grouped together, as they will follow the line of the body’s contact with the mattress. A dermatologist or similar expert should be able to recognise the difference between bedbug bites and, say, mosquito bites, however this may not always be conclusive. Flea bites, for example, tend to be grouped together on the ankles. Mosquito bites can be so numerous as to appear grouped together.

What should hotels be doing?

In the same way that the lack of a bedbug sighting does not mean the lack of a claim, a confirmed sighting does not mean a defence is doomed from the beginning.

If a hotel can demonstrate that they have a plan in place for prevention of, as well as responding to, a bedbug infestation, it is more likely a court will find that they had taken appropriate action.

Case - Ms A

Ms A woke up after her first night in a Turkish hotel with itchy bites on her legs. She requested a change of room but this was refused. No actual evidence of bedbugs was produced by the claimant, however the medical expert confirmed that the bites were consistent with bedbugs.

A joint report was obtained from an expert in pest management, and the court agreed with his opinion that the hotel had failed to take the necessary proactive steps for preventing an infestation, as well as failing to take any measures to prevent further exposure.

Preventative measures were considered to be:

  • Regular bedroom inspections, including close inspection of mattresses, bed bases, headboard, skirting board and bedside furniture.
  • External bedroom inspections by a professional pest controller.
  • Replacing mattresses and bed linen regularly.

After a report of bedbugs, the hotel was expected to:

  • Move the guest to another room immediately, and take the room out of use.
  • Call out a professional pest controller to respond within 24 hours.
  • If the presence of bedbugs is confirmed, all bed linen to be bagged and removed for hot washing. Any heavily infested items, such as the mattress, should be disposed of.
  • The room to be treated and not let out until the pest controller is satisfied that the infestation has been eliminated.


Bedbugs are an ongoing battle and almost impossible to eradicate without professional intervention. Cost will always be a concern for hotels who will be reluctant to take a room out of service. However, they should be encouraged to have a plan in place and retain evidence that the plan is followed to the letter.

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