Is being part of a chain as important for a motel as it used to be?

Kind of a random thought that popped into my head recently. I took a road trip down the coast a few months ago (limited to socially distanced outdoor activities like hiking and beach activities). I stayed overnight in four different places, and none of the motels I stayed in were part of a chain; they were all independently run.

I also observed that, at least in touristy areas, there seemed to be relatively few chain motels and a lot of independent ones. And based on previous trips to those places, several motels that used to be chain motel were now independent:

  • In Santa Cruz, a motel that had been a Knights Inn the last time I was there like a decade ago is now the Salt Air Lodge (I remember because I considered staying there on that previous trip, but didn’t).
    *The motel I where I stayed in Morro Bay appeared to have been a Travelodge in the recent past; the phones still said Travelodge on them. Apparently they didn’t bother replacing them when they changed their name. They’re now the Rockview Inn.
    *In Santa Barbara, the hotel across from the harbor was a Best Western the last time I was there, now they’re the Beachside Inn.
    *Also, the Days Inn where I stayed on previous visits to Santa Barbara isn’t there anymore, but it looks like it was demolished to make way for a bigger, fancier hotel, so it doesn’t quite fit the same pattern as the others.

So that made me wonder if in the era of the Internet, where people can find and book a hotel on, Priceline, etc., and find reviews on Tripadvisor, if hotel/motel owners no longer consider it worthwhile to pay the franchise fees to be part of a chain, as they are able to attract enough guest through those other channels.

I guess this can be divided into two questions. From the perspective of the business owner, do the advantages of owning a franchise of a major chain versus being an independent motel still outweigh the costs? And does it matter to you, as a prospective guest, whether the place you’re considering staying is part of a chain or not?

There is also a rise of boutique hotels/motels, usually older ones that are complete refurbished and modernized with some uniqueness and as such are not part of chains. So yes the internet being able to easier find them plus the rise of the boutique ones I think it is easier to go independant.

What chains have for themselves however is consistance (you know what you are getting), point systems that allow free stays, and usually easy cancelations.

I’ve stayed at both types and usually leverage the feature I want from the above that I and you mention.

When I used to travel a lot for work, there were advantages to accumulating reward points with a chain. I was partial to Starwood, which includes Westin, W, etc. When I’m travelling for business, I tend to like the reliable standard of a chain such as Courtyard Marriot or whatever. When I’m traveling for pleasure or to a more interesting location, a more eclectic independent motel might be more appealing.

I’ve found very great variance with hotels within the same franchise. For example, one Super 8 is very good, the next one down the road is complete trash. To me the franchise doesn’t mean a thing. I’ve had better luck with mom & pop type places.

I can’t speak to the owner’s perspective, but as a traveler, I still think certain brands are worth something. Best Westerns are my go-to for when I just want a clean, safe place to crash and don’t want to have to read a bunch of reviews. If I’m looking for something special, I’ll do my due diligence and consider independent hotels/B&Bs/etc.

I suspect that it’s less important for motels that are in a destination area (like a tourist attraction), than for those which cater to “travelers en route,” and are located right at a highway interchange.

In the former case, many of their guests may be staying multiple nights, and willing to do the research to find a place that is well-rated and has the amenities that they want. In the latter, most of their guests are just passing through, staying for a single night, and the chain name may help act as a quick shortcut for telling the traveler what they need to know about the quality of the place – especially if they aren’t making reservations ahead of time, and just looking at their options as they pull off the highway.

If you’re part of a chain you’re going to pull in the people who belong to loyalty programs, like Wyndham Rewards or Bonvoy. If you travel a lot that can really add up. My hotel is part of a chain and we have - well, pre-Covid - a frequent guest who was here maybe 3 times a year for 2 or 3 weeks. At least one of those stays the room is entirely paid with points so clearly he travels a lot and chooses our chain.

also, with chains you have option of complaints being addressed, with independents not so

When my Wife and I drive cross country, we definitely go with chain hotels. It’s often the only thing you find in a small town off the interstate. And for us, they have at least been predictable. And, restaurants generally pop up around them. So you can usually get a beer and decent burger at the end of your day.

As far as a hotel to spend your vacation at, oh hell no. We do mini excursions from our hotel, so don’t spend much time there. But also like to lounge by the pool and read. Having a nice base to hang out from is important to us.

Some of what you’re seeing with individual hotels no longer being part of a chain might just have to do with a shake up in the industry rather than them deciding to go independent. The chains often outright own the hotels, so they might have just been cut out by corporate. A quick look at the wiki for Knights Inn shows a lot of churn in the last 15 yrs.

Or, the franchise company might have been replaced by a management company.

Those are two different things. The BRAND is typically franchised. The MANAGEMENT is often a management company that runs many hotels.

I see a 2018 survey quoted that 98% of the hotel rooms in the USA are branded.

It would be interesting to know if that number is falling.

It is inevitable that hotels you have stayed in, that were branded, give up the franchise, and new hotels take up franchises. That has to do with the condition of the hotel, and how long since it has been re-furbished.

I’m going strictly on what I’ve read on travel forums as well as read on travel websites. A lot of the independents that were former members of a chain either broke away because they didn’t want to keep up with whatever new standards were introduced by the chain or else they went independent to be more quirky.

I’m pretty loyal to Wyndham, I’m Platinum with them (at least before Covid), so I’ll pick one of their properties almost always even if it’s just one of the low price brands for a night.

I don’t know about other people, but it is for me. Granted, it’s been years since our last road trip, but I introduced the wife to Motel 6, and they have always satisfied our needs. Years from now, before we retire for good and move back to Thailand, we plan to make a major cross-country excursion, and Motel 6 will figure large.

Some of them are better than average too. We still have fond memories of the one in Anaheim close to Disneyland, where we stayed after driving from Texas. It seemed much more than a roadside motel. (Heh. The walls may have been kind of thin though. One of those fond memories is of our neighbor next door banging on the wall one night when the wife and I were getting a little frisky.)

There are other factors. Sometimes the switch is made because, say, IHG gives a better deal than Wyndham. Or there are new owners. Refurbishing should be done every X years, whether the hotel changes franchises or not.

And right away. We drove from the Bay Area to St. Louis, and stayed at one chain every night. All were good except for the last one in St. Louis. I called the 800 number and got switched to another motel in the chain right away, no hassles. I suspect they looked up my record.
On our last trip we got a free night the last night during the trip.

Just after we got married my wife was a night desk clerk at a Motel 6 before she got a real job, and learned how to sell a room multiple times a night. The one near us seems to get more than its share of police calls. Just saying.
We used Comfort Inns and related properties. Good prices and except for one case (which we got out of in minutes - see above) the rooms ranged from good to excellent.

My father was a small business consultant for the University of Wisconsin Extension for several decades, and he worked with a lot of small hotels and motels. He told me that, in the industry, the norm is that a hotel refurbishes all of its interior spaces (guest rooms, public spaces, etc.) on a seven-year cycle, just due to wear and tear. It’s usually pretty easy to tell if a hotel is near the end of that seven-year cycle (or, even worse, if they’ve gone longer than that).

Yeah, my hotel is a little longer due to changes ownership, among other reasons. But I used X in case it’s seasonal so maybe it can go another year or two or they are very proactive and do it every 5 or whatever.

We’ve had pretty good luck with Motel 6, but I know the one not far from me when I lived in Albuquerque seemed pretty run down. That was 30 years ago.