Marketing. The word "motel" was derived from "motor hotel" and the "motel business"is still oriented toward serving those traveling by car.
Motels tend to:
- be more horizontal than vertical, a single story building, or at most two or three
- have more parking spaces than rooms
- have parking very close to rooms
- have rooms opening to the outside
- be located at edges of cities, or near major highways
- have most of their indoor space devoted to sleeping rooms
- have fewer services (valet, laundry, room service, restaurants, bar, etc.)
Hotels tend to:
- be more vertical than horizontal
- have more rooms than parking spaces
- have parking located further from rooms
- be located downtown, or if out of town l(resorts) located well away from maor highways
- have significant indoor space devoted to meeting rooms, ballrooms, restaurants, bars
- offer mores services (bell, valet, laundry, room service, restaurants, bar, etc.)
But some places that look more like a motel are called hotels, and vice versa. I know of a number of properties that have been called a motel at one time and a hotel at another.
None of the other supposed distinctions hold up to scrutiny. Mom and pop operations? Howard Johnsons, Travelodge, Motel 6, Days Inn certainly aren't. Liquor license? Lots of hotels don't have them, some motels do. Price? Some hotels are very cheap. Some motels are very expensive. Cable or satellite TV? Just about any motel has that. Motels are at least as likely to have microwave and refrigerator. Lots of motels have gyms, lots of hotels don't...
Stayed in a lot of them.