Wondering what the real difference is between a hotel and an inn? You’re definitely not alone.

There’s a surprising amount of confusion out there, even though these are two of the most commonly used terms in the hospitality industry. It’s not unusual to see the “hotel” and “inn” used interchangeably, but there can occasionally be some notable differences.

Whether you’re traveling for business or for pleasure, it’s a good idea to know exactly what to expect from the accommodations you book. This quick guide will tell everything you need to know to solve the confusion behind these common terms.

Hotel vs Inn – The Short Answer

Traditionally, a hotel is considered to be an establishment in the middle of town that offers accommodations and extensive amenities. By comparison, an inn would be a smaller, more intimate establishment that offers lodging and food in a rural location.

It’s important to note that these terms are often used interchangeably in modern times, especially in the case of branding. Holiday Inn, for example, is a very well known hotel chain that uses the term “inn” in their brand name despite that they are far from a traditional inn.

It’s usually not hard to discern whether or not an inn is an inn in the truest, most historically accurate sense. A true inn is far more likely than a hotel to be a quaint, single-building location with a limited selection of rooms and a singular option for in-house dining.

If you’re looking for an authentic old-world inn experience, your best bet is almost certainly going to be in Europe.

What is a Hotel?

Hotel Aerial Shot

A hotel is a building that provides a paid accommodation with a variety of features. Most hotels offer long-term services, and this means that they are suitable for both short and long term stays. For instance, it’s not uncommon to see someone book a hotel for several months in the event that they need a temporary residence.

There is also much more room variety within individual hotels. Many hotels have drastic differences between their best and worst rooms, something we covered briefly in our recent article on the the potential benefits and pitfalls of booking run-of-the-house rooms.

Hotels vary in architecture, size and the services they provide. You can only know the quality provided by a specific hotel by going through the star rating and reviews. Despite the different sizes, most hotels have the same design, where the ground floor is designed for the reception and the other floors are used for the accommodation services.

Most hotels are usually found in downtown spaces, sports sites, vacation sites, and business districts.

What is an Inn?

A Traditional Inn

An inn is a building or an establishment where travelers get lodging services, food, and drinks. Inns are usually located in any part of the country, particularly along the highways.

Generally, inns are less costly than hotels. As such, they are considered less luxurious. Unlike hotels, most inns do not have the star ratings, except for the travel sites.

Room services, as well as the other luxurious additions, are not as common at inns as they are at hotels.

Definitions & History

The word “hotel” was first used in 1765. It is derived from a French term, which means the provision of lodging, drinks, food, and other services to travelers, and businesspersons among others.

On the other hand, the word “inn” was first used in 1925. It was initially used to describe an establishment or a building that provides some, but not all, services that the hotels offer.

Architecture

Hotels and inns vary in construction and layouts. For instance, most hotels are usually designed with hundreds of rooms and many floors. They also have elevators, staircases, as well as internal corridors that direct visitors to their respective rooms.

Most true inns will have between 1 to 3 floors and the rooms will be very easily accessible for guests. The entire building will be much smaller than a hotel, eliminating a lot of the walking distance and elevators involved with a hotel stay.

Personnel

Hotels and inns do not employ the same type of staff. For example, hotels might have concierges, receptionists, and bellhops who help guests to take luggage to their specific rooms. They might also have several housekeepers, chefs, elevator operators, concierges, and parking valets much more.

However, this is not the case for traditional inns. Most inns employ a relatively small number of employees compared to what’s typical for a hotel.

Amenities & Services

Hotels typically offer a broader range of amenities & services compared to that of inns. These include swimming pools, extensive entertainment options, laundry, onset relaxation, and recreation services, spa services, and exercise equipment. It’s also not uncommon to see certain well-established hotels offer theaters and casinos.

On the contrary, inns provide fewer basis services. Only a few of them provide complimentary light breakfast or have swimming pools.

Other Differences

Hotels and inns differ in terms of their guest duration periods and the price charges. Hotel accommodations are costly, although the price mostly depends on the hotel location.

As for the stay period, most hotels allow their guests to stay for a longer time. This is because they are spacious enough, and they have almost all the services that the guests need during their stay. Guest can even book hotels as they arrange for their permanent accommodations.

On the other hand, inns are smaller and do not provide extensive and luxurious services to their guests. They as well as the provision of foods and drinks for the tired travelers. For this reason, they usually only offer a short-term accommodation service.

With the above information, let us now look at under which circumstances you should book an inn or a hotel.

When Should You Book an Inn Instead of a Hotel?

  • When You Are on a Strict Budget – This is because inns are relatively less expensive than full-blown hotels.
  • When You Are on a Road Trip – An inn is a convenient option for most travelers on a long journey. Inns often provide quick, low-cost breakfasts with all of the basics.
  • When You Are Not Looking for Property Amenities – As earlier mentioned, most inns do not provide luxurious services such as gym, laundry, and spa. Therefore, they would be the best option for you if you only need the basic services.

When Should You Book a Hotel Instead of an Inn?

  • When You Are Visiting For a Conference – Hotels are far more likely to provide options for lunch, dinner, and breakfast. As such, they would be the best option for you when at a conference because you will not have to hassle or spend time looking for extra services.
  • When You Need Property Amenities – Book a hotel if you are looking amenities such as spas and other recreational services
  • When You Need to Have Quick Access to Town – This is because most hotels are located in/or near cities.
  • When You Are Traveling to Unfamiliar Location – Hotels have many employees, such as concierges and receptionists, and the staff may provide you with the local information and any assistance when need be.

The Bottom Line – What Does This All Mean for You?

If there’s a simple bottom line, it’s that you should really take any usage of “hotel” or “inn” with a grain of salt. They’re rarely used in exclusivity these days.

Typically, it will be very easy in today’s world for you to discern whether or not an inn is an inn in name only. You’ll know you’re dealing with an actual inn when it’s in a quiet location and it looks like what most people would describe as a “bed and breakfast”.

Anything located in the middle of town with a large building (or multiple buildings), a sizable staff, a large number of rooms, and plenty of amenities is a hotel. Plain and simple.

Let us know what you think. Do you like when a hotel uses “inn” in their branding or do you think it’s little more than a confusing marketing gimmick?