Guide: What is the difference between hotels, motels and hostels? (2023)

July 2nd, 2018

The differences are actually pretty small, but the prejudices are widely spread. So what is the difference between hotels, motels and hostels? Concisely, motels and hostels are subcategories of hotels. Hotels can be categorized in many ways – not just by stars but also in types. For example, you may come across the terms apartment hotels, extended stay, conference hotels, boutique hotels, budget hotels, limited service hotels, luxury hotels, and inns. And of course also motels and hostels.

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Motel is a combination of the words “motor” and “hotel”. The term comes from the usual placement of motels near long stretches of motorway, benefiting drivers on a long trip. Normally, motels offer – in contrast to other hotels – fewer facilities at a lower rate. Below, you can read a more thorough history of why motels came about and how they differ from hotels today.

Hostels is another budget-friendly and often very social stayover option. Guests do not reserve rooms at hostels but rent beds – usually a bunk bed in a dormitory with other travelers. Below, you can read about how hostels are modernizing to stay relevant and how hostels differ from other types of hotels.

The origin of hotels

We have to travel back to 2000 BC, back to the time when Hammurabi ruled in Babylon, to find the very first documented legislation about operating inns (and the rental of rooms). Among other things, this document describes which fines are given to innkeepers who dilute the beer they sell. Fast-forward to the 1700s: the industrial revolution begins, pushing demand of stayover opportunities to increase. In Denmark, a national postal service is established to deliver post across the country. To make this system possible, King Christian the 5th issued a decree to open inns and taverns in the cities that mailmen would travel through. One of those hotels was Prindsen in Roskilde. This type of infrastructure development has always been a large driver for demand in the hospitality industry.

Guide: What is the difference between hotels, motels and hostels? (1)The beautiful Prindsen building in Roskilde

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Motels are driven by infrastructure in the USA

Just like the postal service increased demand for stayovers in the 1700s, the America’s huge investments in large highway systems created a much larger and more varied demand for stayover opportunities across the nation. It became more regular to drive long distances – both for truck drivers and for families. Until the 1950s, the available hotels had very central locations in cities, but with the infrastructure investments a new market grew in America. Hotels began opening by motorways to offer an easy and cheap stayover solution for drivers in need of some shuteye before their journey continued to their final destination. This is one of the characteristics of motels; regular hotels are usually located at the final destination, but motels are just a midway stop.

We don’t see too many hotels in Denmark, and for a good reason. As described above, motels serve the purpose of a midway break. There is a big need for this is a country like America that is 9,600,000 sqm in size. Denmark only counts 43,000 sqm, and you can drive from one end of the country to the opposite end a couple of times in a day, so the need for motels doesn’t really exist.

Hostels as a reaction to the industrial revolution

While motels were a natural development of the industrial revolution and the improved infrastructure, hostels were a retaliation against and reaction to the industrial revolution. It was in 1909 that Richard Shirrmann, a German public school teacher, established the world’s first hostel so that he could bring his students on fieldtrips. Hostels are by definition a cheaper and more social accommodation alternative. The purpose is to create facilities that appeal both economically and socially to young people who want to experience more of the world, learn more about new cultures, and get away from the busy city life and into nature.

Guide: What is the difference between hotels, motels and hostels? (2)Friends in a dorm room at a hostel

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Often, we associate hostels with worn out facilities and rickety bunk beds. And at many places this may also be the case. However, many hostels are modernizing today to stay competitive. Usually, however, it is not the rooms that are modernized but the communal spaces. The rooms remain simple as they only serve the purpose of sleeping. From our experience, it is the communal spaces that are given a modern look; they are extended to encompass more social spaces with various types of seating and offer surprisingly great bars.

Difference between motels and hotels

Motels can be defined as hotels that are located with easy access to motorway junctions. Motels are often associated with cheaper solutions, fewer facilities and lower quality. Furthermore, the traditional motels were always built in I-, L- or U-shaped buildings with a large parking area surrounding it. Motels are also associated with buildings of two floors, outdoor access, and room halls towards the parking area. We don’t really have motels in Denmark; the few properties that are close to this description are more often than not just called a hotel or an inn (although an “inn” is an even older term for a business that primarily offers food and beverages, and provides stayovers as a secondary service).

Since motels are an subcategory of hotels, the differences between the two are a bit blurry. But here we have tried to make an overview of the commonly associated differences:

  • Size: Motels are smaller than hotels
  • Service: Motels offer fewer services than hotels
  • Facilities: Motels have fewer facilities than hotels
  • Location: Motels are located near motorways while hotels have more central locations in cities
  • Communal space: Motels often have no communal space except for a small reception for checking in
  • Quality: Motels use lower quality products for building and designing to maintain low prices
  • Price: Motels are cheaper than hotels

Guide: What is the difference between hotels, motels and hostels? (3)Typical American motel

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Difference between hostels and hotels

Hostels are a cheaper and more social hotel category than many others. Cheaper because you rent a bed instead of a room. More social because you sleep in the same room as others and because of good social facilities to meet other travelers. Hostels are mostly used by young people with limited budgets that do not mind saving money at the expense of privacy. The many young guests, the desire to travel, and the open minded culture make hostels informal spaces between staff and guests.

Again, we have to mention that hostels are a subcategory of hotels, but in comparison to motels, it is much easier to characterize the differences between a hotel and a hostel. Here is an overview of the most obvious differences between the two:

  • Size: Hostels calculate their size by number of beds instead of rooms
  • Service: Hostels often have more self-service options than hotels
  • Facilities: Hostels often have fewer but more social facilities than hotels
  • Location: Hostels are usually found in cities and near nature
  • Atmosphere: Hostels have a more informal atmosphere than hotels
  • Quality: Hostels are often of lower quality, but the modernized hostels have higher quality in communal spaces
  • Price: Hostels are cheaper than hotels

What is Zleep then?

Actually, we have been classified as a 3-star hotel chain by HotelStars, but we don’t go around advertising it. Because what exactly does 3 stars mean? We see ourselves as an economy hotel because we offer affordable rooms. We also see ourselves as a limited service hotel because, well, we offer fewer services than other hotel categories. However, we have many self-service opportunities just like hostels. Neither are we motels, but we obviously have fewer facilities than luxury hotels, which is also reflected in the room rate.

To some extent, some cheap hotels can be called “motels” if they are located near motorway junctions. For example, both Zleep Hotel Ballerup and Zleep Hotel Copenhagen Airport are located near motorway exits, both have large parking areas, and both offer affordable prices compared to other hotels in the surrounding area. But the services and facilities that we do offer are of high quality. It is hard to put hotel categories into boxes, but Zleep’s hotel concept (good quality, low rates) is making traditional motels obsolete in Denmark.

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Guide: What is the difference between hotels, motels and hostels? (4)The lounge at Zleep Hotel Copenhagen Airport

We can in no way define Zleep Hotels as a hostel due to the fact that we offer rooms, not bunk beds in dorms. However, we have used the hostel approach to communal spaces by designing several cozy spaces to lounge and be social as well as improved the beverages on offer in the bar. You will especially experience this at hotels such as Zleep Hotel Copenhagen City and Zleep Hotel Billund Airport. In the reception, it is also a “host” that welcomes you instead of a traditional receptionist. This creates a more informal atmosphere in the lounge area – and we are available as local guides and to assist you check in on the self-service machines.


What is the difference between hotel and Motel and hostel? ›

Normally, motels offer – in contrast to other hotels – fewer facilities at a lower rate. Below, you can read a more thorough history of why motels came about and how they differ from hotels today. Hostels is another budget-friendly and often very social stayover option.

What is the difference between hotels & Motels? ›

Facilities & amenities: Motels sometimes don't have the kinds of amenities that you would find in accommodations for longer stays, while hotels often offer fitness centers, laundry rooms, laundry service, or swimming pools. Dining: Most motels don't have a restaurant or bar while many, though not all, hotels do.

What is Motel short answer? ›

noun. a hotel intended primarily for those traveling by car, usually with easy access from each room to an area for cars.

Why is it called a motel instead of a hotel? ›

The term "motel" originated with the Motel Inn of San Luis Obispo, originally called the Milestone Mo-Tel, which was constructed in 1925 by Arthur Heineman. In conceiving of a name for his hotel, Heineman abbreviated motor hotel to mo-tel after he could not fit the words "Milestone Motor Hotel" on his rooftop.

What is the main purpose of motels? ›

motel, also called Motor Lodge, Motor Court, Tourist Court, or Motor Inn, originally a hotel designed for persons travelling by automobile, with convenient parking space provided. Motels serve commercial and business travellers and persons attending conventions and meetings as well as vacationers and tourists.

What is another word for motel? ›

synonyms for motel
  • cabin.
  • hotel.
  • inn.
  • lodge.
  • resort.
  • court.
  • roadhouse.
  • motor court.

What is the full meaning of hotel? ›

: an establishment that provides lodging and usually meals, entertainment, and various personal services for the public : inn.

What does Pineapple hotel mean? ›

It was so coveted that people would even rent the fruit for a brief chance to impress their guests. The pineapple showed that hosts were willing to go to any lengths to demonstrate exceptional generosity and accommodation. And that's what excellent hospitality is all about.

What is a hotel vs motel vs inn vs lodge? ›

Re: What's the difference between lodges /hotels/motels? A Hotel is a building with interior corridors that the various rooms are off of. A Motel is short for Motor Hotel. It does not have interior corridors, and a Lodge is either, usually a Hotel, in a rustic area and the building itself is also rustic.

Why is it called Inn? ›

The original meaning of inn was "lodging and food for travelers," although today some inns don't have a restaurant or bar attached. If you own or manage an inn, you're an "innkeeper." Inn comes from the Old English inne, "inside or within."

What is the meaning of hostels? ›

hos·​tel ˈhä-stᵊl. Synonyms of hostel. : inn. : an inexpensive lodging facility for usually young travelers that typically has dormitory-style sleeping arrangements and sometimes offers meals and planned activities. called also youth hostel.

Why do drug dealers use motels? ›

Rear rooms are preferred because of light foot traffic. They are inconspicuous as well and let dealers see everyone who enters and leaves. Multiple rooms are rented so the dealer can use one room to set up deals and the other to safeguard the narcotics in case police decide to raid or a potential buyer opts to rob him.

What is the most important thing to remember when staying in a motel? ›

Always ask for the exact location of the motel. Use Google Maps to scour the area as well to see what you'll be next to and the general area. This way, you'll know which restaurants and entertainment hotspots may be a short walk away.

What's a fancy word for restroom? ›

bathroom. nounroom for bathing, toilet use. bath. lavatory. powder room.

What's a fancy word for homeless? ›

synonyms for homeless

destitute. displaced. dispossessed. derelict. down-and-out.

What is a better word for homeless person? ›

hobo. beggar. bum. derelict. down-and-out.

What are the 4 different types of hotels? ›

Discover 21 of the most popular types of hotels
  • Chain hotels. The most common hotel type on this list, chain hotels make up tens of thousands of properties located throughout the world. ...
  • Motels. ...
  • Resorts. ...
  • Inns. ...
  • All-suites. ...
  • Conference/convention center hotels. ...
  • Extended stay hotels. ...
  • Boutique hotels.
Sep 3, 2021

What is the meaning of FB in hotel? ›

FB is short of Full Board and means that all three meals are included – breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This plan would suit those on a health trip and those who don't want to move around much. As with half board, drinks are only usually included at breakfast, and you have to pay extra at lunch and dinner.

Why are hotels called 5 stars? ›

Five-Star: A five-star property provides flawless guest services in a state-of-the-art facility. As a five-star property, such as premium dining options and personalized services to its guests. With no detail being overlooked, these hotels commonly even provides high-end, luxury toiletries for guests.

Is it better to stay in a hostel or hotel? ›

A hostel is better than a hotel if you want to save money and stay in a more social environment. Hostels are a terrific accommodation option for young people or solo travelers who want to make new friends. Alternatively, a hotel room is a better option if you want complete privacy and more amenities.

What makes a hotel a hostel? ›

A hostel is a lower-priced inn of sorts that offers basic, shared accommodations. Typically, a hostel features a large room with separate beds, a shared bathroom, and a communal kitchen. Some hostels have private rooms, but the lower-cost ones generally offer bunk beds.

Is a hostel cheaper than a motel? ›

Price Comparison. Booking a hostel dorm bed is almost always cheaper than booking a hotel room - due to the number of beds per room. While a hotel can sell a room for $60, a hostel can sell 6 beds in that same-sized room for $10 each - and make the same amount.

Do hostels have private bathrooms? ›

In hostels, you should expect to share bathrooms, especially if you're going to be staying in a dorm. Private rooms will occasionally come with an en-suite bathroom, but these are still relatively rare. Hostel bathrooms usually start the day clean, so if you're going to shower once a day, do so as soon as you wake up.

Do couples stay in hostels? ›

Hostels aren't just for single travelers. Next time, bring your partner along for the journey, and see why couples can hostel, too!

What are the 7 common hotel classifications? ›

  • One star hotel classification. This is the most basic standard of hotel. ...
  • Two star hotel classification. Two star hotels usually come with an en suite bathroom. ...
  • Three star hotel classification. ...
  • Four star hotel classification. ...
  • Five star hotel classification. ...
  • Luxury. ...
  • Mid range. ...
  • Budget.

What is a hotel vs Motel vs inn vs lodge? ›

Re: What's the difference between lodges /hotels/motels? A Hotel is a building with interior corridors that the various rooms are off of. A Motel is short for Motor Hotel. It does not have interior corridors, and a Lodge is either, usually a Hotel, in a rustic area and the building itself is also rustic.

What are the types of Motel? ›

In the U.S., the properties can either be traditional roadside motels, motor inns, or full-service hotels. Outside the U.S., the properties are mainly hotels.

What is the real meaning of hostel? ›

a place where people, especially young people, can stay cheaply for short periods when they are travelling, with shared rooms and sometimes some private rooms: We stayed in a lovely hostel just off the main square. Compare. hotel (PLACE TO STAY) youth hostel.

Why is it called a hostel? ›

The word hostel comes from the Latin hospitale meaning "inn, large house." Think of a hostel as an inn for students or young people. Often you can stay in one of these places for relatively little money because multiple beds are in one room and you share the bathroom with other guests.

What kind of people stay in hostels? ›

The low-down on who you will be likely to meet when staying at a hostel
  • 1 - The Lurker. ...
  • 2 - The Partier. ...
  • 3 - The Clinger. ...
  • 4 - The Sweethearts. ...
  • 5 - The First-timer. ...
  • 6 - The Settler. ...
  • 7 - The Gap Yahhh. ...
  • 8 - The Snorer.
Jul 26, 2018

Do homeless people sleep in hostels? ›

Most hostels are for single homeless adult men. Some are for people who have experienced domestic abuse or have mental health, drug or alcohol problems. Hostels usually provide: your own bedroom, which may be shared with someone of the same sex.

How long can you stay at a hostel? ›

There's no limit as to how long you can live in a hostel, but don't forget the reason why you travelled to a new part of this wonderful planet…to explore!


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