Saturday, April 29, 2017

What is the difference between a hotel and a motel?

Years ago -- decades, in fact -- some state tourism office down in Florida offered a prize, somewhere in the mid five figures, to anyone who could come up with an answer to that question that would be authoritative enough to generate agreement by all as to a proper definition, and thus written into law whenever a legal distinction had to be made or acknowledged.

The prize remains unclaimed to this day*.

Image result for motel

The closest anyone has ever come to a definition that has met with some agreement, is based upon the means of access to the rooms: Hotels - with some exceptions - have interior corridors, and you leave your car in a parking lot, enter through a main lobby, maybe take an elevator, and walk down an interior hallway to your room. Motels (the term 'motel' originated as a portmanteau word for 'motor hotel') have exterior corridors: you can park directly in front of your room (quite often, if you're on the ground floor, you can park directly in front of your door).


Agreement is not universal, and exceptions occur in both directions. Even Super 8 Motels has changed their brand to simply 'Super 8' (the only exterior corridor 'motels' ever included in the chain were pre-existing buildings that converted to the brand), and all of even their earliest building types were interior corridor - making you wonder, were they ever really 'motels' (as opposed to cheap 'hotels') to begin with?.

New logo rolled out in 2008

And frankly, I'm a little hesitant, even now, about referring to the Velvet Cloak Inn, once an iconic luxury property in Raleigh, N. C., as a 'motel' (although it has been done, sort of, by no less than the original owners -- note the 'motor hotel' appellation on the matchbook cover?)

Besides the concern that applying such a term to such a property seems just a little ignorant; the tall, stunningly attractive, French-Canadian banquet manager that the Velvet Cloak had, upon whom I had quite a crush when I drove a taxi back in college (Michael Forrest Jones' answer to Is it true that hotel concierges receive a kick-back commission from taxi drivers meaning the customer pays more? ) and was called there frequently to drive her home when she left work in the evening, might leap out of my past and beat the crap out of me for daring such an insult . . .

(Late note, April 3, 2016: Sadly, it falls upon me to share with you that the Velvet Cloak's days have come to an end: it's going to be torn down. Velvet Cloak Inn to be sold; buyer has new plan for Hillsborough Street landmark - Triangle Business Journal )

Motels - specifically, exterior corridor hotels - are disappearing. No one is building them anymore. Reasons?

  • Open the door on a really hot day - the temp is climbing to 90-something in North Carolina as I write this, and it's only 9am - and watch what happens to your air conditioning; and how that affects - very quickly - the temperature inside. Or try it on a cold, cold winter night, and watch what happens to the built-up warmth in the room - immediately. Bad energy efficiency.
  • Security can be problematic (at least for anyone other than a construction crew who wants to get out to their work truck, where their tools are stored, in a hurry if they think they hear someone out in the parking lot trying to mess with it). Anyone can walk right up to your door while you're sleeping. Or your window: at the last exterior corridor property where I worked, I lost count of the number of Peeping Toms I ran off the property. (Usually, they weren't perverts, they were just people who wanted to peep into the windows, room to room, and pick a room they liked - say, one in a certain location in the building, or one with a refrigerator and microwave - that they could ask for specifically when they checked in, or to locate an acquaintance who's already checked in; practices we tried very hard to discourage. But at such a property, a pervert would have his work made easy: the window in each room faces on an all-but-public walkway. And if you find one peeping through your window, it's not going to matter to you why . . . ) At least, in a properly secured interior corridor property, an intruder or trespasser would have to get past the front desk, and risk being seen by security cameras and a night auditor who doesn't want the boogeyman in the building any more than the guests do; and you can't look through a window into the rooms without going outside and make it obvious what you're up to. (By the way: unless it's located in a nice, bucolic rural setting; if an exterior corridor property is not fenced . . . it's not secure. The more run-down the surrounding neighborhood, the less so.)
  • Advances in hotel marketing and our understanding of it, and better knowledge of who our customers are. Time was, nearly every motel ran according to the 'roadside motel' business model, everyone paid the same rate (except AAA members, who got the 10% discount), and convenience for automobile travelers - usually traveling with families - was paramount. The obvious interdependence between motels and automobiles was how Satan was able to invent the AAA discount, and why motel owners made a pact with him and went along with it (see Michael Forrest Jones' answer to What is and why do hotels have a rack rate? ) Nowadays, most hotel owners get it that family, or even personal, automobile travel is only one of several possible sources of business, just one market segment - and at a well-marketed property, not even the biggest or most profitable single source of business you can have, at that. (Business travelers are.) So it's no longer mandatory that you locate your property right next to an off-ramp for the convenience of walk-in motorists, nor is it necessary that you put up with the energy inefficiency and questionable security that goes with an exterior corridor property

You'll still see some older 'motels' around as long as someone can keep the rooms rented at 60% occupancy, at an average rate of fifty bucks give or take. But even the newer ones are dinosaurs. You rarely see one in a location where it can command a very good rate. (That's yet another reason not to build them. Compare the rates at the two Fairfield Inns by Marriott in Fayetteville, N. C.. [ ], even though the Cross Creek property is in a higher-value location. Those older exterior corridor Fairfields are being phased out by Marriott, you can count on your fingers the older exterior corridor Hampton Inns that Hilton hasn't yet gotten rid of [ ]; and while there's got to be one or two left somewhere, I'm pretty sure that most of the exterior corridor Holiday Inns/Holiday Inn Express properties are gone already.) 

I wouldn't count on seeing too many new exterior corridor properties being built. Even Motel 6, when it builds a new 'motel', builds an interior-corridor property.

* - Maybe they should give it to me. Type the question "What is the difference between a hotel and a motel? into Google Search, and see what comes up as the very first entry. (Really. Do it now.) Occasionally it comes up as the second or third entry from the top. But if Google shows your answer to the question as definitive -- well, maybe it is.

Thanks to all of my Quora followers and page visitors for your support. :-)

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