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A motel is a hotel designed for motorists, and usually has a parking area for motor vehicles. The term 'motel' in the United States can be considered somewhat outdated and few motel chains still exist (Motel 6 and Super8 are two of the most popular still in existence). Motels peaked in popularity in the 1960s with rising car travel. In the year 2000, the American Hotel-Motel Association removed 'motel' from its name after considerable market research, and is now the American Hotel and Lodging Association. The association felt that the term 'lodging' more accurately reflects the large variety of different style hotels, including luxury and boutique hotels, suites, inns, budget, and extended stay hotels.

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 consisting 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.[1]



Auto camps predated motels by a few years.[2] Unlike motels, auto camps and tourist courts typically provided bed and breakfast or hotel-style service, usually with stand-alone cabins. After the introduction of the motel, auto camps continued in popularity through the Depression years and after World War II, their popularity finally starting to diminish with the construction of freeways and changes in consumer demands. Examples include the Rising Sun Auto Camp in Glacier National Park and Blue Bonnet Court in Texas. Such facilities were "mom-and-pop" facilities on the outskirts of a town that were as quirky as their owners. The 1935 City Directory for San Diego, CA lists "motel" type accommodations under Tourist Camps.

In contrast, though they remained "Mom and Pop" operations, motels quickly adopted a more homogenized appearance and were designed from the start to cater purely for motorists.[3] 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.[1]

Motels 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.

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