“I couldn’t stop thinking about our ‘contamination’ and it really bothered me for the remainder of our trip”


Tom Backus and his wife were enjoying dinner at Quinn’s on the Beach at the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort Golf Club and Spa when they say they were were sprayed by pesticide. They were troubled that the resort was applying chemicals to guests who were eating dinner, and asked a staff member for an explanation.

“Our waiter said the pesticide was completely harmless,” he says. “But the manager then bought our dinner and wanted to ply us with drinks all night.”

Backus didn’t let it go, even though the hotel paid for dinner.

This incident made us very unhappy and really put a damper on our vacation at Marco Island. I couldn’t stop thinking about our “contamination” and it really bothered me for the remainder of our trip.

I wrote a letter to the Marco Marriott and they replied that the pesticide was safe and that basically I should just go away. Internet research indicates that there are safety concerns with certain ingredients used in the insecticide. The incident still bothers me and that is why I am writing you.

Full disclosure: I know the folks at the Marriott in Marco Island well, and have spoken at a conference there in the past. It’s a terrific property and they get customer service.

I reviewed Backus’ letter to the hotel and its response. Both were cordial, professional and addressed the issues. In its reply, Marriott apologized for the way in which the incident had been handled, but assured their guest that the mosquito repellent spray it used at Quinn’s was safe.

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As someone from Westlake, Ohio, I can imagine getting misted by insecticide is disconcerting. Certainly, no hotel should be applying chemicals to guests while they’re eating. But as someone who has lived in that part of the world, I would hate to see what things would be like without the spray.

This is what I saw only a few feet above the treetops of my house just a day after I moved to Key Largo, Fla., in 2001: It’s a DC-3 spraying insecticide. After that, Monroe County switched to truck-based applications. To get an idea of where we’d be without these marvels of modern technology, just head over to the Everglades. Don’t apply any bug repellent.

You won’t last five minutes out there.

So I see the need for the chemicals, and I think Marriott responded appropriately. Still, I’m not sure I understand why they sprayed pesticides at dinnertime, and if Backus is still not happy, I’m sure they’d want to know about it. So I shared his correspondence with my contact at Marriott. Late last week, I heard back from him:

We have been awarded three free nights at the Marco Marriott to make amends for the spraying incident. I truly believe your intervention paved the way for this resolution. Thanks again for your help.

Three nights is a little rich, actually. I would have been happy with a promise to keep the pesticide away from guests, particularly those who are eating. But Backus is happy with the resolution and considers the matter closed.

Update: Some of you have asked exactly how Backus was sprayed. Here’s his account:

On our last night in Marco, we were having a delightful dinner around sunset at Quinn’s, seated on the outside patio directly adjacent to the bushes and trees on the south side.

Suddenly, and without warning, a very heavy mist enveloped our table. This sickly-sweet mist permeated our table space as we were eating dinner and made us gasp.

I immediately called for our waiter to explain what had just happened, and he somewhat nonchalantly indicated that we had just been sprayed by a “harmless pesticide” and that we should not worry. With that assurance, he just walked away and attended to other diners.

(Photos: John Walker and Silenus 81/Flickr Creative Commons)

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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