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The first Motel 6 in Santa Barbara, still in operation to this day
Motel 6 is a major chain of budget motels with 1000+ locations in the United Statesmarker and Canadamarker, and is the largest owned and operated hotel chain in North America. It is owned and operated by Accor Hotels.


Motel 6 was founded in 1962 in Santa Barbara, Californiamarker, by two local building contractors, William Becker and Paul Greene. The partners developed a plan to build motels with rooms at bargain rates. They decided on a USD$6 room rate per night that would cover building costs, land leases, mortgages, managers' salaries and maid service, hence the company name.

Before starting Motel 6, Becker and Greene specialized in building low-cost housing developments, and they wanted to provide an alternative to other major hotel chains such as Holiday Inn, whose locations were becoming increasingly upscale in quality and price in the 1960s, after starting out with a budget-oriented concept. Becker and Greene spent two years formulating their business model, and searched for ways to cut costs as much as possible: during the chain's early years, Motel 6 emphasized itself as a "no-frills" lodging chain with rooms featuring coin-operated black-and-white TVs instead of the free color TVs found in the more expensive motels, along with functional interior decor (to reduce the time it took to clean the rooms). The first location in Santa Barbara had no restaurant on-site, a notable difference from other hotels of the era; most locations to this day have no on-site dining, though there is a considerable choice of restaurants nearby most properties.

As the 1960s progressed, the Motel 6 idea became very popular in the lodging industry and other chains began to imitate the concept, as Motel 6 was slowly beginning to take a small share of the market away from the traditional hotels. Becker and Green set out on an ambitious expansion program and had 26 locations in operation by 1966. The occupancy rate by then was about 85 percent, well above the industry average, and as a result of the overwhelming success, Motel 6 became an attractive acquisition target. Becker and Greene sold the chain to an investment group in 1968.

In the 1970s, the coin-operated black-and-white TVs were replaced by free color TVs that received local over the air channels, plus HBO and later ESPN and CNN at no extra cost. By the 1980s these rooms cost 25 dollars a night nationwide. Rooms also have telephones (with free local and toll free calls, and long distance calls charged to a major credit card), towels, soap, and cabinet, and free wake-up calls. The chain does not provide extras that might increase costs, like hair dryers, continental breakfasts, or clock radios. But free coffee is served in the morning in the lobby. In most locations, an outdoor pool and a guest laundry are also offered. Many Motel 6 locations now have minifridges available for an additional daily low rate.

Motel 6 was sold to Kohlberg Kravis Roberts in 1985, and in 1988 began its now-legendary "We'll leave the light on for you" advertising campaign (see below).
A typical roadside Motel 6 Location
Although room rates have risen with inflation, Motel 6 corporate policy states that it will always have the lowest price of any national chain. Depending on the particular location and season, rooms now cost from $29 to $100 a night, on average. Prices are typically advertised on a brightly-lit sign visible from nearby highways; most of its locations are located on or near major interstate highways.

Market share declined throughout the 1980s, in part because of increased competition from other budget hotels. The company was bought by the French-based Accor in 1990. In 1991, Motel 6 purchased the Regal 8 Motel chain.

Unlike the majority of motel chains, Motel 6 allows pets, and directly owns and operates most of its locations. However, in order to expand more rapidly outside of its traditional Western United States base, the chain did start franchising in 1994. Accor management also took over motels that had previously been franchised by other chains. They also began to renovate all Motel 6 rooms, sold off underperforming locations, and upgraded door locks and other security measures systemwide. Newer properties, as well as acquisitions, have interior corridors (some consider this as providing more safety for the guest). Its competitors include Budget Host, Econo Lodge, and Super 8 Motels.

Motel 6 founder William Becker died on April 2 2007, of a heart attack. He was 85 years old.

Advertising Campaign

Motel 6 may be best known for a series of humorous radio and television ads featuring the folksy voice of writer and National Public Radio commentator Tom Bodett, with the tagline "We'll leave the light on for you". Produced by Dallas advertising agency The Richards Group, the campaign has been running since 1988. The music in the background of the commercials was written by Tom Faulkner and is played on the fiddle by Milo Deering. The song won the 1996 Clio Award. The campaign itself has won numerous national and international awards, and was selected by Advertising Age magazine as one of the Top 100 Advertising Campaigns of the Twentieth Century.

A New Look

In 2007, Motel 6 undertook a systemwide renovation program that will totally update the look and amenities of a Motel 6 room. Features will include: modern furnishings influenced by European and boutique hotels; flat-screen televisions; brighter paint accents and soft goods packages; wood floors; increased storage space; ergonomic workspace and Wi-Fi access ($2.99 per day); and updated bathrooms with glass shower doors and granite countertops. On January 30th, 2009, Motel 6 opened their 1,000th location (property #1113) in Biloxi, Mississippimarker, which was the first to feature this new look.

Studio 6

Since 1999, Motel 6 also operates Studio 6, a chain of extended stay hotel that offer more amenities and weekly rates. Studio 6 provides a kitchen area in all its rooms, and welcomes children and pets. Studio 6 hotels are located in 15 U.S. states and Canada. Its competitors include Extended Stay Hotels and Choice Hotels' Suburban Extended Stay Hotels.

In popular culture

  • The band Yo La Tengo wrote and perform a song called "From A Motel 6" that is set inside a Motel 6 room. The title may be a play on the Bob Dylan song "From a Buick 6".
  • In the 1992 Chevy Chase film Memoirs of an Invisible Man, the characters played by Chase and co-star Darryl Hannah stay in a San Franciscomarker area Motel 6 while awaiting a train.
  • In the Simpsons episode "Sideshow Bob Roberts", when the family's house faces demolition for the construction of the Matlock Expressway, Lisa despairs that they will be forced to live in a Motel 6 which Bart counters with the lament that Homer wouldn't be able to afford $6 a night.
  • In the Futurama episode Crimes of the Hot there is a reference to Motel 6 when Fry exclaimed about the Halley's comet - "Oh, my God! It's out of ice, like some outer space Motel 6!" with responses from Leela - "Completely out of ice?" and Bender - "This could mean the end of the banana daiquiri as we know it! Also, life."
  • Justice Sandra Day O'Connor made a mention of Motel 6 in her dissent regarding private property rights in the U.S. Supreme Court's Kelo v.marker City of New Londonmarker decision. Justice O'Connor stated "The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the State from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory."
  • At Camp Nama, a secret detention, interrogation, and torture facility run by an Army commando unit known as Task Force 6-26, some detainees were held in an area known as Motel 6, consisting of crudely built plywood shacks reeking of urine and excrement.
  • In Bulletproof Monk Kar used Motel 6 as an insult to the gang leader's place.
  • In the 1995 film Jumanji, Kirsten Dunst's character, Judy, comments that she will stay at Motel 6 because her younger brother, Peter, saw a bat in the attic.
  • The short story All That You Love Will Be Carried Away by Stephen King takes places exclusively at a Motel 6 near Lincolnmarker, Nebraskamarker.


  2. Motel 6 - Company History
  3. Ad Age Advertising Century: Top 100 Advertising Campaigns

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