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Mom and Pop Hotels:
Dinosaurs or Survivors

Ocean City Correspondent, Jill Anne

When travelers became motorists and relied on automobiles to get them to their vacation destinations, motels became nothing more than a place to rest. "Motel" was first used in 1926 by motel owner, Arthur Heineman, when he named his motel in San Luis Obispo, California the Milestone Mo-tel (short for Motor Hotel). From camps and cottages to motor inns and highway hotels, motels increased in numbers rapidly throughout the 1930s. John Jackle, author of the book, The Motel in America, claims large hotel chains were introduced into the lodging industry much later than the automobile-fueled businesses you see everywhere you go. This allowed the good old mom-and-pop accommodation establishments to thrive for a long while.

Note: While this article is general in nature and not about Ocean City, some of it does apply to beach locations.

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Jakle says that the mom-and-pop businesses were at their peak in the early 1960s with approximately 61,000 facilities in operation in the US. In fact, in 1962, less than 2 percent of motels were affiliated with large lodging chains. This changed when the corporations involved realized that if they were to finance groups or chains of hotels, they would be more likely to guarantee that their investors would attract certain levels of new and repeated business. By 1987, 64 percent of motels in the U.S. had become part of these networks, and chain hotels led to travelers developing higher standards in maintenance, ease of reservation making, and lower rates.

So what about the mom-and-pop businesses now? There is one in particular in Nashville, Tennessee called the Travelers Rest Inn that looks as if it has been lost in a time warp. The Traveler's Rest Inn has just 36 rooms complete with a quaint feeling and antique decorations. It really hasn't changed very much in the past 45 years since it opened, despite the high demands of larger hotels. The sleepy two-lane road nearby has even been replaced by a five-lane highway and the farm behind the motel has turned into a multi-story office park. But the Hotel remains as it did years ago.

Gina Delboy is the woman who took over management of the Travelers Rest Inn after the original owner, her father, passed away. Gina says, Were one of the last mom-and-pop motels left." As you would suspect, The Travelers Rest Inn does not have room service free cable movie, or a continental breakfast. But you shouldn't let these things make you turn away from staying at an establishment like this old mom-and-pop business. You may not be able to be waited on hand and foot, but places like this do have something that large hotels do not, an escape from the fast paced world.

James T. Lim is the assistant general manager of the Maxwell Hotel in San Francisco. James says that "even though mom-and-pops don't have in-room Internet access or expensive bathroom amenities, they offer something that's basic that the big companies don't provide. It goes back to "personalized" service. In a smaller hotel, the front line staff can establish a one-on-one relationship. At the Maxwell, we manage customer relationships separately and individually, not as interchangeable occupancy numbers or groups of buyers."

The mom-and-pops have managed to find ways to stay competitive in the world of traveling accommodations. For example, the Delboys of the Travelers Rest Inn have increased their rates and their numbers of rooms. They have gone from 12 rooms at $4 per night to 36 rooms at $52 per night and it has helped to keep them ahead of increases demanded by inflation.

Many of today's small operations have even begun to take advantage of the travel industry's GDS reservation systems. If you look on the Internet you can now find many of the mom-and-pop places accessible through Reservation networks. Some mom-and-pops are even developing their own Web pages and giving the website addresses to their guests, travel agents and the Internet search engines to help spread the word.
Bed and Breakfast establishments float in the same boat as the old mom-and-pop businesses in many cases, but they too have managed to stay afloat and attract plenty of visitors. Again, it boils down to the fact that many travelers would prefer personalized service as opposed to room service that you may have to wait an hour for. In addition to that, another reason for growth in these small businesses is based on the owner's ability to keep up a recession-proof business. The hospitality industry overall, suffered from low numbers and slow growth in the early 1990s but the bed-and-breakfast and mom-and-pops were able to prove themselves to be resilient.

Many hospitality industry experts today believe that bed-and-breakfasts and will continue to do well and even grow in popularity thanks to the fact that state tourism offices include B&B listings in their books and brochures. B&B associations have been developed for marketing purposes, and there is greater regulation by local governments and increased standardization by groups like AAA.

Motels and bed-and-breakfasts today can frequently be found in clusters and they tend to become a destination in themselves. For example, the Poconos area of Pennsylvania and the shoreline of New Jersey have bed-and-breakfasts and motels all over and these are great examples of mom-and-pops that remain successful.

Both types of mom-and-pop businesses will continue to exist and attract new customers. They may not be the best places to say when you have kids, but they are great for a quiet vacation away for two. Rates will continue to rise but that happens with everything you pay for. Some customers even prefer the convenience of the door to outside being right there during poor weather because they can be closer to their cars.

So whether you are traveling for business or pleasure, take a time-out from the large, busy, packed hotels and enjoy the quaintness and personalized service of the old mom-and-pops. They may have changed a little over the years, but not much and their desire to please each and every customer remains the same.

Wherever you stay, we wish you a great stay at the beach.

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