What's the Difference Between Hotels and Motels?
In crime fiction, society's degenerates often meet up in what authors like to describe as "seedy motels." Unlike a hotel, a motel carries connotations of being hospitable to illegal acts, unkempt, cheap, dilapidated, and generally the lesser of travel lodgings. Hotels, though they can be dirty and unpleasant in equal measure, tend to be looked upon more favorably.
Is this kind of hospitality stereotyping even fair? What's the difference between a hotel and a motel?
The answer is in the etymology of the word motel. It's a really two words spliced together: motor (or motorist) and hotel. Motels first came into prominence in the 1920s, when newly-paved highways meant that drivers might be traveling long distances and be in need of accommodations. These early motels popped up along roadways, offering meals, a place to sleep, and a place to park one's car. These car spaces were typically situated right in front of the motel rooms, which were part of a one- or two-story structure. Because motels weren't intended to shelter hundreds of people in a major tourist spot, it made more sense to keep them small and make crashing for the night as convenient as possible.
Hotels, in contrast, have been around for centuries and are meant to both host destination travelers and stand as architectural marvels, with an artery of lobbies offering interior entrances to rooms. The staff can run into the hundreds to keep their sprawling operation clean and efficient.
Because their amenities are more limited, motels might employ just a handful of people. They're also less likely to be prepared for extended-stay guests, who may quickly grow tired of the small rooms and basic features. Motels, for example, typically don't have gyms and room service.
On the plus side, you're more likely to find a motel in remote areas, and chances are the rates will be more reasonable than what a hotel might charge.
As for whether motels have an earned reputation for being sleazy, that's probably not true. While they do offer easier access to non-guests into rooms by virtue of their layout (and therefore make for much better movie-shooting locales), your chances of being victimized by some type of crime probably have more to do with where you are than where you're staying. Crime in nicer New York City hotels is up 20 percent in the past few years, with 2656 police reports filed in 2017.
Hotel or motel, always lock your door and remain alert walking to and from your vehicle—which, if you're in a motel, can be easily seen from your room window. Happy travels.