What is the Difference Between Hotels and Motels?



When non-English speaking people try to learn English it is words like hotel and motel that tend to confuse them because they are easily used interchangeably by the average American. However, these words, in fact, do have a slightly different meaning and should be distinguished for aproper understanding of the English language.

Starting with the word motel it is defined as “a place that is next to a road and that has rooms for people to stay in especially when they are traveling by car”by Merriam-Webster Dictionary.[i]To further expand on this definition, it is a place that has rooms, next to a road or highway that typically has rooms that exit directly to the outside parking lot.

In many cases, these buildings were single level, but not always. In the 1920’s these were a contraction between “motorist” and “hotel”.  The term was originally coined by The Milestone Interstate Corporation in 1925. They were proposing to build a series of hotels called motor hotels between San Diego and Seattle. [ii]

For the most part, motels were designed to be easy access from the room to the parking lot. Motels were very popular during the nostalgic days of Route 66 in America.[iii] It was a time in history where the highway system across America was in its infancy and where motels provided the service needed for travel weary motorists.

Motels in America are currently connected with minimal benefits and are designed to be cost effective. Chains such as Motel 6 or Red Roof Inns or even Motel 8 would be in the medium to lower price chains. They are not well suited for conference or business meetings. However, you can get a good night sleep after a well-deserved hot shower after a day’s driving on the interstate system in North America.

So what is the meaning of the word hotel? By definition of the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it is “an establishment that provides lodging and usually meals, entertainment, and various personal services for the public.[iv]This defines the expanded services that modern hotels in America have.

When looking at the etymology of hotels it goes back to the 1640s referring to a large residence or palace.[v] Even back then hotels were equated to higher elegance than common lodging. Hotels traditionally carry an extended amount of services in addition to a room and a shower and a bed to sleep in.

Modern hotels include attached restaurants, extensive complimentary breakfast venues, and large conference room services. If they provide the service business venues, it normally comes with catering for luncheons and dinners. Hotels can be located near motels and range from above quality to motels to extravagant quality for high-end entertainment.

The higher end hotels are not necessarily located near highways but more likely in resort or tourist areas. A good example would be the hotels in Las Vegas, mainly those on the “Las Vegas Strip”. These are not motels, but rather hotels that cater to the gaming and gambling industry. Examples of these hotels are Bellagio Las Vegas, The Palazzo Resort Hotel Casino, and The Mirage Hotel & Casino. These cater to tourist travelers who will stay there for a few days to even a few weeks at a time to enjoy the gambling, entertainment, and restaurants. Some of these may very well have a professional golf course connected to them.

When looking at hotels from a global perspective, USA Today has their own list of top 10 luxury hotels.[vi] They are listed as follows:

  • Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
  • Mandarin Oriental
  • Oberoi Hotels and Resorts
  • Peninsula Hotels
  • Shangri-La Hotels
  • Fairmont Hotels and Resorts
  • Ritz-Carlton
  • Park Hyatt
  • JW Marriott
  • Couples

These hotels are not for those with limited financial means. They are for the luxury and business travelers around the world. A quick look at USA Today’s link will discuss briefly the amenities that these high-end hotels offer.

The nice thing about our system here in North America is that there are a significant number of hotels, motels and industry chains that cater to the wide economic variety of those travelers, vacationers, and tourist to manage just about any budget.

So to finish this discussion, motels are lower end units that carry the minimal amenities such as a room, a shower, and a bed. These can be single level or three stories in height. Motels are never considered luxury in North America.

Hotels can range from medium price range, such as Holiday Inn Express or Drury Inn or Days in, to the higher level Hotels as noted above. We trust that this short discussion helped you understand clearly the difference between hotels and motels. Happy traveling!

Author: betty norris

Facebook Comments
Help us improve. Please rate this article:

2 Responses

  1. Beverly Minyard

    August 3, 2021 9:47 am

    I didn’t know that motel is a contraction of “motorist” and “hotel” because that is what motels are meant for. My wife and I love going on road trips and staying just a single night in motels. This article was super cool I am going to send it to my wife because we stay in motels so often.

  2. Anna Collins

    May 24, 2022 10:11 pm

    Thanks for letting me know that motels are specifically designed to have room accommodations that have easy access to the parking lot, so they’re perfect for people traveling by car who are looking for a place to temporarily stay in. I’m going on a solo road trip to unwind this weekend, and I was just looking for a place to pass the night in. I’ll be sure to look into motels around the route I’m driving towards.


Leave a Reply