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What is the Difference Between a Hotel and a Motel?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 23, 2024
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Urban sprawl, cross-country conferences, and Las Vegas extravaganzas are each associated with hotels, but a motel is where someone might stay if traveling with his family through the Sequoia National Forest, the vast Montana countryside, or the sweet woods of Virginia. Motels are roadside lodgings that are often quaint and privately owned, though chains of these establishments also exist. They first appeared along the highways of America not long after Henry Ford started rolling Model T’s off the assembly line, from 1908 to 1930. Tin Lizzy, as it was called, was the first affordable car offered to the masses. Once people got a set of wheels, they wanted to use them, and the humble motel sprang up to help motoring folks get from point A to point B.

Purpose and Features of Motels

One of the distinguishing features of a motel is that it is generally L-shaped, U-shaped or square, with an inner courtyard that serves as the parking lot. Doors face the lot, with ground doors opening directly to their own parking spaces mere feet away. This is extremely convenient for unloading suitcases. It is also reassuring for residents to have their vehicles parked right outside the door where they can keep an eye on them, especially if they contain valuables. Motels, particularly those that are part of a chain, are often located just off a freeway or major highway for convenience, but many are found in mountain towns and along smaller, more picturesque roads.

While the average motel may not have the facilities found at hotels, it offers easy access, reasonable rates, and a less complicated experience. This makes it ideal for a night’s sleep as travelers make their way through a country’s less traveled roads to an ultimate destination. Some even feature individual cabins set among picturesque woods, perfect for a longer stay to get away from it all.

Purpose and Features of Hotels

Hotels serve a different purpose from motels, and as such, they tend to be located in or near cities or major holiday resorts. The basic design of a hotel is significantly different, for example, the rooms normally face inward with doors opening to interior hallways. A guest might stay at a hotel for a week or longer on business or pleasure, and “extras” are expected. Hotels commonly offer jacuzzis, gyms, pools, restaurants, room service, cable television, Internet connectivity, and other luxuries. Hotel parking lots are separate, and in many cases, the walk from the lot to the lobby can be a trek; however, staff are normally available to carry baggage, and sometimes a shuttle service is even provided.

History

While the hotel has a long history, dating back to antiquity, in the form of travelers’ inns, the motel is a development from the early to mid-20th century, and is closely connected to the rise of the motor car. The need for accommodation at an overnight stop on a long motor journey led to the appearance of “auto camps” in the USA, designed to allow travelers to stop off for the night in cabins or tents, and often providing breakfast. With the construction of major new highways in the latter half of the 20th century, purpose-built accommodation for motor travelers began to appear, with abundant parking spaces close to the rooms, which were designed for easy access to the car. These motels, as they came to be named, quickly became popular and appeared at convenient locations along all major routes.

Motels reached their peak during the 1960s, but since then have gone into a decline. The construction of freeways offering fast, uninterrupted routes deprived many rural establishments of business, and due to the low standard of accommodation offered by some premises, the term came to be associated in some minds with cockroaches and poor facilities. As hotels diversified, they took over a lot of motel business, and the term has come to be regarded as a little outdated.

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Discussion Comments

By anon282660 — On Jul 30, 2012

Motels: Door opens to the outside. Hotels: Door opens to an inside hall. Period. End of story.

By anon273890 — On Jun 09, 2012

Hotel: Stay with restaurants and other facilities.

Motel: Only stay.

By anon148641 — On Feb 02, 2011

a hotel is named as hotel because it is situated in cities. it is full of all facilities. On the other hand, a motel is situated on highways where all facilities are not available in a motel. only you can stay there at nights or in days for a rest.

By anon138247 — On Dec 30, 2010

i think they are basically the same.

By anon115361 — On Oct 01, 2010

In Brazil, a motel is a place where you take your girlfriend and/or boyfriend to have sex with. On the other hand, a hotel is just like everywhere else. Weird, eh?

By anon101239 — On Aug 02, 2010

Either way, they can both be nice places to stay. But check the rooms and the pool before you agree to stay. You just never know what kind of conditions you may find.

By anon98037 — On Jul 22, 2010

there is a Days Hotel in San Diego, in the Hotel Circle region. The doors all face outward. They call themselves a hotel. I would consider it Days Motel. You park out in the parking lot and all doors face the parking lot. Everything about it screams Motel. There must be some loophole that this Days Hotel found to call itself a hotel. I always thought a hotel had inside doors and your door did not open to the parking lot. what are your thoughts?

By anon93712 — On Jul 05, 2010

Actually, no, the inside and outside doors are not the difference. I work at a motel, and we are all indoors, with halls and what-not. We do not have room service, door men, valets, or a restaurant. El cheapo.

By anon75016 — On Apr 05, 2010

thanks for the difference.

By anon71981 — On Mar 21, 2010

thanks for the definitions.

By anon60453 — On Jan 13, 2010

a motel has outside doors and a hotel inside doors.

By anon54190 — On Nov 27, 2009

Thanks for finally answering this question I've had all my life. I am 42!

By anon25079 — On Jan 23, 2009

What is the Difference Between a Hotel, a Motel and pensione house?

By lamaestra — On Apr 10, 2008

The easiest way to remember it: Motels start with "m" for motor - outside doors to get to your car.

Also, hotels tend to be nicer.

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