which came first hotels or motels


As a frequent traveler, I have often wondered about the origins of hotels and motels. Which one came first? In this article, I will delve into the history of both and attempt to unravel this age-old question.

The Origins of Hotels

Hotels have been a staple of hospitality for centuries, dating back to ancient times. In fact, the concept of providing lodging for travelers can be traced back to early civilizations such as the Greeks and Romans. However, it was during the Middle Ages that the modern concept of hotels began to take shape.

In Europe, during the medieval period, travelers sought refuge in monasteries and inns. These establishments provided basic amenities such as food and shelter, catering primarily to pilgrims and merchants. The word “hotel” itself is derived from the French word “hôtel,” which originally referred to a townhouse or a mansion.

The Birth of Modern Hotels

The modern hotel as we know it today emerged during the 18th century, with the opening of the City Hotel in New York City in 1794. This marked the beginning of a new era in hospitality, as hotels started to offer more luxurious accommodations and services to attract affluent customers.

Over time, hotels evolved into grand establishments, boasting opulent decor, fine dining, and extensive amenities. The development of the railroad system in the 19th century further fueled the growth of hotels, as travelers sought comfortable lodgings near train stations.

The Rise of Motels

While hotels have a rich and storied history, motels are a more recent addition to the hospitality industry. The term “motel” is a blend of “motor” and “hotel,” reflecting the concept of providing lodging for motorists.

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The first official motel in the United States was the Motel Inn, opened in San Luis Obispo, California, in 1925. Designed to cater to the needs of automobile travelers, motels offered convenience, affordability, and easy access to parking.

The Motel Boom

It was not until after World War II that motels experienced a surge in popularity. The post-war economic boom led to an increase in car ownership and interstate travel, creating a demand for roadside accommodations. Motels sprang up along major highways, offering travelers a comfortable and affordable place to rest during their journey.

With their distinctive architectural style, characterized by low-rise buildings and direct access to rooms from the parking lot, motels became synonymous with the American road trip culture. The iconic neon signs of motels illuminated the highways, beckoning weary travelers to stop and stay the night.

The Modern Landscape

Today, both hotels and motels continue to coexist, each catering to different segments of the hospitality market. While hotels offer luxury, sophistication, and a wide range of amenities, motels prioritize convenience, affordability, and accessibility for motorists.

With the rise of online booking platforms and sharing economy services, the hospitality landscape has evolved further, with the emergence of boutique hotels, bed and breakfasts, and vacation rentals. Each of these accommodation options offers a unique experience, catering to the diverse needs and preferences of travelers.

The Verdict

So, which came first, hotels or motels? While hotels have a much longer history, motels emerged as a response to the changing needs of travelers in the 20th century. Both have played a significant role in shaping the way we experience travel and lodging, and each has its own place in the rich tapestry of hospitality.


In conclusion, the history of hotels and motels is a fascinating journey that reflects the evolution of travel and hospitality. From humble inns and monasteries to extravagant luxury hotels and roadside motels, the accommodation industry has continuously adapted to meet the needs of travelers. Whether you prefer the grandeur of a hotel or the simplicity of a motel, both offer unique experiences that enrich our journeys.

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Q: Are all motels cheaper than hotels?

A: While motels are generally more affordable than hotels, it is not always the case. The cost of accommodations can vary depending on location, amenities, and seasonal demand.

Q: Can you find luxury motels?

A: Yes, there are luxury motels that offer upscale amenities and services. These establishments blend the convenience of motels with the luxury of high-end hotels.

Q: What is the main difference between a hotel and a motel?

A: The main difference lies in the layout and accessibility. Hotels typically have multiple floors and interior corridors, while motels have rooms that open directly to the outside, often with parking spaces in front of each unit.

Q: Are motels only found in the United States?

A: While motels are closely associated with American road culture, they can be found in other countries as well, especially those with a strong emphasis on automobile travel.

Q: Can you book a motel room online?

A: Yes, many motels now offer online booking options through their websites or third-party platforms, making it convenient for travelers to secure accommodations in advance.