motel, public lodging establishment for automobile travelers. Motels have traditionally differed from hotels in that the former have facilities for free parking on the premises, are seldom more than three stories high, and offer occupants direct access to rooms without having to pass through a lobby. Motels are also generally smaller and farther away from urban areas, and they offer fewer services than hotels. The distinction between motels and hotels, however, is very difficult to make, especially in the case of the so-called motor hotels, which combine the characteristics of both types of establishment. In the 1980s and 90s, some midrange motels began to offer suite accommodations and other features once found only in hotels. Motels can be seen as logical heirs to the earlier American public houses. Just as the inn was suited to 18th-century horse travel, and the hotel was suited to 19th-century railroad travel, the modern motel is suited to mass automobile travel on 20th-century expressways.

Entering dictionaries after World War II, the word motel, a portmanteau of motor and hotel or motorists' hotel, referred initially to a type of hotel in Columbia, MD of a single building of connected rooms whose doors faced a parking lot and, in some circumstances, a common area; or a series of small cabins with common parking. As the United States highway system began to develop in the 1920s, long distance road journeys became more common and the need for inexpensive, easily accessible overnight accommodation sited close to the main routes, led to the growth of the motel concept.


The motel concept originated with the Motel Inn of San Luis Obispo, constructed in 1925 by Arthur Heineman. In conceiving of a name for his hotel Heineman abbreviated motor hotel to mo-tel. Unlike their predecessors, auto camps and tourist courts, motels quickly adopted a homogenized appearance. They are typically constructed in an 'I'- or 'L'- or 'U'-shaped layout that includes guest rooms, an attached manager's office, a small reception and, in some cases, a small diner. Post-war motels sought more visual distinction, often featuring eye-catching neon signs which employed themes from popular culture, ranging from Western imagery of cowboys and Indians to contemporary images of spaceships and atomic era iconography.

In their early years, motels were "mom-and-pop" facilities on the outskirts of a town. They attracted the first "road warriors" as they crossed the United States in their new automobiles.

Motels differ from hotels in their common location along highways, as opposed to the urban cores favored by hotels, and their orientation to the outside (in contrast to hotels whose doors typically face an interior hallway). Motels almost by definition include a parking lot, while older hotels were not built with automobile parking in mind.

With the 1952 introduction of Kemmons Wilson's Holiday Inn, the mom-and-pop motels of that era went into decline. Eventually, the emergence of the interstate highway system, along with other factors, led to a blurring of the motel and the hotel, though family-owned motels with as few as five rooms may still be found, especially along older highways.


Motels with low rates sometimes serve as housing for people who are not able to afford an apartment or have recently lost their home and need somewhere to stay until further arrangements are made. Motels catering to long-term stays often have kitchenettes.


See also: Love hotel
In most countries of Latin America and some countries of East Asia, motels are also known as short-time hotels, and offer a short-time or "transit" stay with hourly rates primarily intended for people having sexual liaisons and not requiring a full night's accommodation. In Mexico love hotel equivalents are known as "Motel de paso" (Passing Motel) (even if they are actually meant mostly for pedestrian access). In Colombia and Brazil, motels are used by people for sexual intercourse only. In Argentina these establishments are called albergue transitorio ("temporary lodging"), though known as telo in vesre-slang. In Panama love hotels are known as Push Bottoms. In Singapore, cheap hotels often offer a slightly more euphemistic "transit" stay for short-time visitors. In Manila, a campaign against the hotels, believed by religious conservatives to contribute to social decay in the predominantly Roman Catholic country, ended with the city banning hotels from offering stays of very short duration. As of December 2006 there are still many short time hotels in operation. In Belgium and France, these establishments are known as hôtels de passe. In Chile, they are known as moteles parejeros (coupling motels), and many of them offer hourly rates. In the United States and Canada, some ordinary motels in low income areas—often called no-tell motels or hot sheet motels—play a similar role to love hotels.


The Bates Motel is an important part of Psycho, a 1959 novel by Robert Bloch and the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name. Film sequels Psycho II and Psycho III feature the motel as does the 1987 television movie Bates Motel.

Legal issues

Motels have also served as a haven for fugitives of the law. In the past, the anonymity and the ability to move around easily between motels in different regions by dropping in and checking out with a simple registration process allowed fugitives to remain ahead of the law. However, several advances have reduced the capacity of motels to serve this purpose. Credit card transactions, which in the past were more easily approved and took days to report, are now approved or declined on the spot, and are instantly recorded in a database, thereby allowing law enforcement access to this information. This system was implemented in 1993 after the abduction and murder of Donna Martz, whose credit card was used by her killers following her death to purchase food, gasoline, and to pay for overnight motel stays. The story of Martz's disappearance, leading to the development of this system, was described on The FBI Files. Laws in many places now require registering guests to present a government-issued photo ID, especially when paying with cash. Local law enforcement agencies frequently check motels when they suspect a wanted individual may be staying in their jurisdiction.


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