When motels get renovated – how run-down roadside lodgings get chic reboots

What comes to mind when I say motel? Flickering (No) dial tone? Hourly rooms? An episode of Schitt’s Creek or Breaking Bad?

It’s time to think again. As the pandemic put flying on hold, road trippers across the US saw a new, albeit still niche, overnight option emerge – rebooting roadside motels as hip, tech-savvy and Covid-safe stopovers, served with a diner-sized dollop of nostalgia from mid-century.

“Who wants a hotel with a hall?” asked a New York Times Story about motel makeovers.

Spa City Motor Lodge in Saratoga Springs, The Drifter in New Orleans, and Selina Miami Gold Dust in Florida are just a few examples of hotels channeling the retro vibe alongside upgraded dining offerings, sparkling cocktails, and cool pools.

The trend was already in play before the pandemic, but as with so much else, Covid has proven to be an accelerator. Travel-shy people found that traveling by car, contactless check-in and independent stays increased the appeal.

It’s not just in the US. In Australia, motels like the Kyah Boutique Hotel in New South Wales and the Surfside Motel in Yeppoon, Queensland received retro reboots.

The UK also has a new motel brand, a concept by Nick Jones of Soho House.

Mollie’s is a chain of ’21st century motel diners’, the latest of which is opening a former Travelodge in Bristol. Yes, there are red neon signs, burgers, and shakes, but guests can also charge their electric cars and use smartphones as room keys, TV remotes, and to order food.

“A touch of color, a touch of Conran,” the blurb reads about the decor, and Mollie’s Motels also offer lobby workspaces, house-brand coffee, and catchy cocktails. Next up are the former Granada TV studios in Manchester.


Mollie’s Motel in Bristol

The original motels had their heyday in the mid-century, when gas was cheap and car ownership was booming in the United States. Interstates had yet to shorten journeys, and mammoth and pop “autohotels” grew to replace camping stops as lodging solutions.

However, with time, fashion and affordable air travel, their image has faded – not least with motels’ roles as seedy backdrops for outcasts and drifters in films like Psycho, Paris, Texas and memory.

In 1964, according to Mark Okrant, there were 61,000 motels in the United States No Vacancy: The Rise, Decline, and Reprise of the American Motel. Almost 50 years later there were 16,000.

Of course, the romance of the road trip was never lost. But on the contrary. Fuel prices are skyrocketing and climate change is making us reconsider how we travel, but the pull of famous roads like Route 66 and Highway 40, the Great Ocean Road in Australia, Route 1 in Iceland or the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland feels as strong as ever.

For those looking for a nostalgic freedom to travel and stay with fewer crowds, you can see why the trend makes sense. There’s even a Netflix show Motel Renovation.

It fascinates me to see how Covid is changing our holiday stays – from lodges at the highest level to al fresco dining or simple room upgrades like Netflix and nicer coffee.

I wonder if we can see neon signs on Irish roadsides? When motels get renovated – how run-down roadside lodgings get chic reboots

Fry Electronics Team

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