The term “motel” has come to mean something we generally associate to places where illicit affairs happen or where people generally stop for an hour or two to get shady deals done. But where did the term really come from?
The word is actually a portmanteau, derived from the classification “motorist hotel,” a quick-stop hotel for motorists who have traveled for miles on the road. These hotels are designed with an easy access to an open parking space, and are usually located right by major roads. They are generally inexpensive and offer only the basic necessities for the transient stay.
Experts hold that the term “motel” started coming into wide usage after World War II and entered dictionaries around the same time. With new freeways getting built in America, car travel boomed. There were a lot of people who liked to go on extended road trips, and as this became more and more frequent, it encouraged the demand for establishments that would cater to the needs of these so-called “road warriors.”
Given their nature and their target market, motels are commonly found along major roads and highways. That is quite the distinction, compared to hotels that are largely situated in densely populated urban areas. Of course, there are still numerous hotels located in urban areas, but there are more motels that can be found in the outskirts of towns and in not-so-populated areas.
One of the characteristics of motels is that a lot of them have themes. It’s what sets one motel apart from the rest and gives the establishment its inherent character, sometimes enough to lure in guests. One excellent example of a themed motel is the Wigwam Motel chain, with the buildings taking on the form of the namesake wigwams, small dwellings used by Native Americans.
Motels are actually very versatile establishments. They not only serve as adequate overnight lodgings for weary travelers, but they can also act as affordable long-term room and board for people who have no money to fully rent actual apartments.
Motels also afford its clientele with the kind of anonymity unmatched elsewhere. It is perhaps because of this trait that motels have slowly but surely gained a reputation for fostering shady deals and housing shady people and as love hotels where couples conduct their “illicit” encounters, which are in all likelihood a secret to their spouses or partners.
This stigma for motels is even more rampant in countries outside the United States, in such regions as East Asia. Love motels are clumped together in red light districts and offer people additional services that are best left out of this article.
Still, there’s still the idea of what a motel essentially is: a transient place with adequate accommodations where one can stay the night without hurting his or her budget too much. The motels are the smaller brothers of hotels, and afford many a traveler unparalleled convenience on the long road to whichever destination. That’s why, even with the reputation of motels today, they still fill a very important niche.