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.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.