The Evolution of the Hotel

Subaru UserpicAs we drove the “Mother Road” and along other former US highways and byways (US 6, US 151, US 30, etc), I couldn’t help but notice the evolution of the roadside motel and its branding. In the early days of the US highway system, things were mom and pop motels, local to the area. In the heydays of the Interstate and as the US system was bypassed, these became chains like Best Western, Travelodge, Motel 6, and Holiday Inn.

Today? We’ve seen very few Travelodges, Best Western has gone upscale and the motels have lost their “individually owned” character. We’ve seen nary a highway Holiday Inn. The old motels have moved their affiliations to American’s Best Value Inn, Knights Inn, and Budget Host, to name a few (the first two are now the budget brands of Wyndham). These brands seem to take the old hotels and keep them viable with a network, but leave the improvements up to the owner. Former budget chains — Ramada, Holiday Inn, etc., have gone upscale and disgorged their older properties. Perhaps the franchisee requirements and new standards were impossible for the older hotels to meet.

When looking at highway motels, it is clear which are loved, which are not, which are attempts to make money, and which are dying. It is easy to see the growing conformity of the franchise — travelers know what they get, and often pay extra for that conformity. Yet in our travels we’ve seen the hotelier who loves the business, and who care about their customers, and those are still nice to see. So is it still worthwhile to see out the individual hotel, the unique, the special? I think so, but I note that you can find that even in some chain hotels (as we did).