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Indeed technology is helping the very self-service nature of motels. At the Capri, a 1963 property, in Ojai, Calif., renovated three years ago, check-in is via text. Its 30 rooms all open to the air and have been open — and mostly occupied weekends since September 2020 — said Marlee Rojan from the front desk. And consistently booked midweek since March. “For months, I’d just sit here by myself all day, trying to make sure people felt comfortable. We weren’t allowed to serve coffee or water, it was super weird,” she said. “I’d just say: ‘I’m here if you need me!’” No one did.
Like everything in our current world, the road trip, a classic American experience, has changed.
It’s also vital with marketing, which as Mr. Blood said, can be “a bit of an uphill battle.” Catering to people’s nostalgia plays a big role, as does choosing desirable locations, but Instagram in particular has made it easy to showcase the mood of the new motel. The feeds of hip hotel-motel groups are convincing scrolls through cool pools and pretty couples, patterned pillows and simple yet sophisticated rooms. Palm-held reminders that these are not your parents’ musty motels.
The M Word
Maybe just don’t call them motels?
“I’m not afraid of it,” Mr. Blood said of the M-word. “But we like motor-lodge better.”
“We prefer not to refer to it as a motel,” said Kristin Huxta Bradley, senior director of communications for Kimpton, when asked about the Goodland, a converted 1960s property outside Santa Barbara. It has record players and poolside DJs and retro-styled rooms flanking the pool. “It’s not the motel experience,” she said. “It’s a boutique hotel. We don’t have any motels in our portfolio.” Call it what you will, of all Kimpton properties, those with exterior corridors “have performed well and seen some of the quickest return to prepandemic business levels,” Ms. Bradley said.
A ground-floor, drive-up room during a pandemic in dreamy Ojai or sweet Cape Cod is desirable, no doubt. But a ground-floor, drive-up room off the highway, or street-side in a crime-filled city, during normal times? Not so much, the major chains decided a dozen years ago.
By 2008, Holiday Inn — which began in 1954 as a chain of hotels off the interstate highway system — stopped renewing contracts with its exterior corridor hotels, citing perceived safety concerns among its guests. “Major brands see exterior corridors as a liability risk,” Mr. Scholes said. “They made a big push to get rid of them. We’ve definitely seen a purge.” He dismisses the mod-motel movement as niche, and while exterior corridors have been advantageous lately, it is not a sign, he said, that the traditional long, carpeted, hermetically sealed hotel hallway is going anywhere.