History And Controversy: Brand Proliferation & Exterior Corridors

With the current proliferation of new brands, it might be instructive to take a backward look at earlier explosions of motels and hotels. As Confucius said, “Study the past if you would divine the future.”

In the early 1900’s motels were the epitome of modernism—the civilized evolution from tents to tourists cabins to auto courts to motor courts. With the vast improvement in roads spurred on by the visionary Carl G. Fisher’s building of the Lincoln Highway from New York to San Francisco in 1917, the tourist cabin business grew into a large industry. By 1925, Florida had 175 of the new roadside motor courts. In the U.S., the number grew from 1,000 to 2,000 from 1920 to 1926.

On January 3, 1920, in the Saturday Evening Post, novelist Sinclair Lewis wrote, “Somewhere in these states there is a young man who is going to become rich. He may be washing milk bottles in a dairy lunch. He is going to start a chain of small, clean, pleasant hotels, standardized and nationally advertised, along every important motor route in the country. He’s not going to waste money on gilt and onyx, but he is going to have agreeable clerks, good coffee, endurable mattresses and good lighting, and in every hotel he will have at least one suite which, however small, will be as good as the average room in a great modern city hotel. He will invade every town which hasn’t a good hotel already.”

Despite the Depression, the number of motor courts increased from 9,800 in 1935 to 13,500 by 1939, with total guest registrations at about 225 million. By the early ‘40s, 25 million cars were registered, and 800 new motor courts were opening each year. Most of them offered private baths, heating, inner-spring mattresses and rugs or carpeting. Only a few had air conditioning or room phones.

After World War II, many veterans opened roadside motels resulting in a total of 20,000 motels in 1940, 30,000 in 1948 and 61,000 by 1960. The institution of the motel made a qualitative leap by the ‘60s, as it evolved into the motor inn and motor hotel. This expansion was triggered by the Federal-Aid Highway Act which President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law in 1956. Over the next two decades, 47,000 miles of new Interstate highways were built which attracted motor inns, fast food franchises and a suburban residential construction boom (which continues to this day).

The new motor inns were much more luxurious than their predecessors. Most had swimming pools in elaborately landscaped settings. There were bars, restaurants, coffee shops, meeting rooms, lobbies and telephone switchboard service for the rooms—all of the comforts of a downtown hotel but on the edge of town. Almost all had exterior corridors with convenient adjacent parking areas and easy access to guestrooms by traveling salesmen, handicapped people and families with children.

As most of us know, the young man who fulfilled Sinclair Lewis’ prediction (except for the good coffee and good lighting) was Kemmons Wilson, who in 1952 opened the first Holiday Inn in Memphis. By 1968, the 1,000th Holiday Inn opened in San Antonio. By then, many competitors had entered the marketplace: Howard Johnson (1954), Motel 6 (1962), Days Inns of American (1970) and many others (Quality, Comfort, Rodeway, Econolodge, Friendship, Ramada, Super 8, Travelodge, Best Western). Many of these names are still in existence but now combined under new ownership entities, such as Choice, Wyndham, Hilton, Marriott, Starwood and Intercontinental.

Exterior Corridor Blues

As the new brands are rolled out, there is a quiet but potentially explosive controversy simmering just below the surface of the hotel franchising industry. It concerns the defranchising of exterior-corridor properties—once the standard motel design—and whether the traveling public considers them insecure and outdated.

Some hotel franchisors have concluded that exterior-corridor properties are obsolete and detrimental to their brands’ images. As a result, they’re defranchising these motels to take advantage of current market conditions and the possibility of franchising newer and more modern properties.

Unfortunately, there is a dearth of reliable data regarding many of the questions involved in this controversy:

  • How many exterior-corridor properties are in operation in the U.S.?
  • What do travelers think about exterior-corridor properties?
  • Are these properties considered outdated and undesirable?
  • How many guests still would rather park close to their rooms so they can
    • - see their SUVs and their possessions
    • - have a short walk with their luggage
    • - have the privacy and convenience of avoiding hotel lobbies, elevators and long interior corridors?
  • Do women guests believe that interior corridor hotels are safer?

There are an estimated 500,000 brand-affiliated, exterior-corridor hotel rooms now operating in the United States. If you add in independent properties, there are probably one million rooms, or 30 percent of all domestic hotel rooms. At a 50 percent occupancy and $30 Average Daily Rate, these hotels generate nearly $5 billion in annual room revenues and pay $150 million in royalty fees (using a conservative three-percent franchise fee).

In light of their constant claims of fairness in franchising, how can franchise companies reconcile their rhetoric with the painful reality facing hotel owners whose exterior-corridor properties are losing value every day?

The hotel industry badly needs primary research on consumer preferences for exterior corridor hotels. Franchisors and franchisees should sponsor such research under the aegis of one or more of the following: the American Hotel & Lodging Association, The Cornell Center for Hospitality Research, the NYU Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management and/or other hotel graduate schools at major universities.  

--

© Copyright 2005, Stan Turkel. Stanley Turkel, MHS, ISHC, is a New York-based hotel consultant specializing in hotel franchising issues, asset management and litigation support services.  He is a member of the International Society of Hospitality Consultants and can be reached at [email protected] and 917-628-8549.

Photo via Wikipedia, The Great Sign

Profile picture for user Stanley Turkel

Comments

Stroll Down Motel History Lane

Great article that takes us down motel history lane. Growing up, my parents managed one of those original motor courts off A1A in Florida. So it is something that I definitely relate to. Your article sparked me to want to see visually the beginnings of motels. Here are some links I found.

  • Motel Americana, postcards from the road. These are great photos and postcards of motels from yesteryear
  • Lots of photos of motor courts on Flickr
  • USA Today on Kemmons Wilson, a roadside vacation from hell, and the beginnings of Holiday Inn
  • History of Holiday Inn from Wikipedia and Howard Johnsons from Blue MauMau

suzie

Stroll Down Motel History Lane

Great article that takes us down motel history lane. Growing up, my parents managed one of those original motor courts off A1A in Florida. So it is something that I definitely relate to. Your article sparked me to want to see visually the beginnings of motels. Here are some links I found.

  • Motel Americana, postcards from the road. These are great photos and postcards of motels from yesteryear
  • Lots of photos of motor courts on Flickr
  • USA Today on Kemmons Wilson, a roadside vacation from hell, and the beginnings of Holiday Inn
  • History of Holiday Inn from Wikipedia and Howard Johnsons from Blue MauMau

suzie