January 04, 2023
By Cvent Guest

You’ve probably scrolled through local hotels and seen a variety of properties, some called both hotels and inns. Figuring out the difference between a hotel and an inn can be tricky, especially when they seemingly offer the same perks and are used interchangeably. In this guide, we’ll explain the history of inns, how they led to the creation of modern hotels, and what really sets them apart. Keep reading to make the best possible lodging decision for your next getaway.

Is an inn the same thing as a hotel?

By definition, an inn is a building that people can find along a highway or countryside that provides lodging and food. Although that sounds a lot like a hotel, inns are actually different from hotels. To make matters even more complicated, inns have been said to be the original  hotels. In fact, inns have formed the basis of many different types of lodging we know and use today.

The concept of a place where travelers could go to rest, eat, and play is centuries old. These first ever inns trace back all the way to the Greeks and Romans. They were created after new roads took trade routes farther than they had been before. The increased accessibility of travel by stagecoach and horse also made these roads ideal for the roots of tourism and leisure travel that we would recognize today.

Back then, inns would serve both their lodgers and their horses, often providing stables, food, and water for their animals. For their human guests, inns provide hot meals and communal dining rooms that are similar to today’s bed and breakfasts or hostels. Although it doesn’t sound like much by modern standards, having the ability to safely and comfortably travel over long distances with guaranteed stops that were not only good for survival but also entertainment was quite a novelty.

At the original inns, staff and services were limited to what the innkeeper and their family could provide. But there are many accounts of trades, friendships, romances, job hires, and brawls on the premises which kept people occupied while they were there. Popular movies, musicals, and television shows have fictionalized the somewhat raucous atmosphere these unique locations must have provided.

Modern inns are considerably more tame and less glamorized by Hollywood, though they still have a lot to offer. Today, the term inn and hotel are often used interchangeably, but they are different enough that we still make the distinction. In fact, many modern hotel operators try to distance themselves from their competitors by styling themselves as inns.

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Take Hilton for example. The Hilton hotel brand has both the Hilton Garden Inn and the Embassy Suites by Hilton in their portfolio. Both offer lodging and food, but Hilton has gone to great lengths to differentiate the two. According to USA Today, “Hilton Garden Inns aim for a high service standard, but are more relaxed than Hilton hotel and resorts.” Travelers who stay at a Hilton Garden Inn are typically looking for a peaceful, quiet, and laidback atmosphere.

The word “garden” in the name also references the property’s status as an inn. Inns are typically found in the country surrounded by nature, bringing the outdoors to the city, where most of Hilton’s Inns are located. There are five in Los Angeles county alone, one of which is by the airport. Sometimes all that differentiates a modern inn from a hotel is branding.

To further prove the point, Hilton Garden Inn uses the word “road” in much of their ad copy. This emphasizes their mission to help travelers while they are “on the road”, even though most Hilton Garden Inns are centrally located metropolitan properties.

What is the difference between a hotel and an inn?

So now we know that inns were the original hotels, and modern inns are sometimes also hotels. But what about the stereotypical inns along the countryside? Let’s take a closer look at how these two types of lodging really differ.

1. Building size

Hotels tend to be larger than inns and have both more rooms for rent and amenities. However, some inns also offer camp-like properties, with plenty of places to picnic, have a bonfire, and hike. They may also have a separate check-in lodge. If the inn is on the smaller side, it may be a single building on a plot of land. Hotels are also likely to have multiple floors while inns may only have one or two levels and no elevators.

2. Room size

Room sizes at hotels depend on bed types. Inns use this system too, but there are a wide variety of room types depending on the brand. Some offer a room within a single lodge structure while others offer individual family cabins. Since inns are typically located in areas where there is plenty of breathing room, their rooms are likely to be larger, especially when compared with hotel rooms in big cities where real estate is scarce. Both hotels and inns should have ADA accessible suites, though you should verify this with the property before arriving. The ADA does not require buildings constructed before it went into effect in 1991 to be updated to meet its criteria.

3. Property amenities

Hotels provide a number of recreational facilities and amenities, including gyms, swimming pools, and spa areas. Inns do not usually have these facilities. They do, however, usually have a small area for meals. Traditional inns may also have an onsite restaurant. On the higher end, some inns also have places to camp, outdoor activities, gardens, and even pools.

4. Room amenities

Rooms at an inn are perhaps a bit spacious but are often basic. Common hotel room amenities, like televisions, seating areas, and WiFi, can also be found at inns. Hotels tend to be more technology forward, sometimes with in-room tools such as voice search assistants, while inns like to keep it fairly low tech.

5. Dining options

Modern hotels and inns both tend to have restaurants onsite. Restaurants at an inn will likely have outdoor seating and/or picnic areas with relaxed first come, first serve policies. Hotel restaurants tend to be busier, especially around holidays, so reservations are recommended. High end hotels are also likely to have a dress code, while high end inns may not. Bars and vending machines are also more common at hotels.

6. Shared spaces

Inns may offer small business centers or provide document printing for guests at the front desk as needed. Inns do have the advantage of outdoor areas, so there might be unique experiences like fairy gardens, sunset viewing points, and even barns, all of which are uncommon for hotels. Hotels are less likely to have those one-of-a-kind spaces, but they are more likely to have a variety of amenities—think a full business center, gym, pool, laundry, breakfast area and restaurant, lobby, and more.

7. Price

In general, inns offer cheaper rates and more discounts than most hotels. However, hotels may have member rewards that result in a similar price. Hotels tend to display prices right on their website, but inns may require you to call and find out. Also, bear in mind that the price a hotel lists on its website may not be the final cost.

8. Types of guests

Guests at inns are almost always leisure travelers. Whether they are on road trips or not, they’ve come to enjoy the area. Business meetings and conferences are unlikely at this lodging type, especially compared to standard hotels.

9. Staff

Hotels have many different types of staff and a larger team than inns. An inn is likely to only have one office on the property and a team of maybe only a few people. Hotels may offer 24/7 non-emergency staff services, while inns are likely to have set hours with an after-hours phone number for true emergencies.

Staffing shortages don't have to keep your inn down

10. Services

Hotels typically offer things like valet, dry cleaning, and concierge services, while inns don’t. But what inns lack in service types, they make up for with personal attention. For example, the Big Sur River Inn & Restaurant advertises a local gas station deal right on their homepage. They write, the station “will continue to offer locals 27% discount off gas and propane, making gas comparable to town prices without the drive.” Something like this would be extremely unlikely to appear on a traditional hotel website.

11. Location

Hotels are typically found in high-travel areas, while inns serve a more leisurely crowd, and are often found off of highways. Some inns are more immersed in nature than hotels, and even motels. Those are found surrounded by hiking trails, lakes, mountains, rivers, and national forests.

Hotels and inns FAQs

Now that we’ve distinguished between hotels and inns, you may still have a few questions about which one is right for you. Here are the top things to consider before booking either.

What are the pros and cons of booking a hotel versus an inn?

When it comes to traditional hotels and inns, we’re really talking about the city versus country debate. Both have their charms, but serve different purposes for travelers.

Hotels have many pros, like:
● More options for rooms, amenities, and services
● Guests can use rewards systems for discounts
● Service is available in a large capacity at almost any hour of the day

Hotels also come with their own cons. Think:
● Most hotel chains won’t invest in more isolated areas
● Hotels are almost always owned by corporations
● Hotels are mostly found in urban areas

Similarly, inns have a variety of pros of their own, such as:
● The opportunity to offer unique rooms, amenities, and services
● They are often owned by individuals, families, or small business groups
● Service comes with a personal touch
● Often surrounded by nature

Inn do come with some cons, like:
● Less variety and options overall
● Service hours are limited
● May be off the beaten path

Want to know what hotels can expect in 2023?

What is the purpose of an inn?

Inns are great for unwinding and connecting to nature. With less emphasis on technology and more on grounding oneself, they are ideal for those who like to travel to more remote regions or simply need some time away from the stresses of modern life.

How do I choose between a hotel and an inn?

If you’re really torn, consider what you’d like to do during your stay and how the weather could affect that. For example, an inn in the high desert sounds like a great idea for your July trip exploring a national park, but if it doesn’t offer central air conditioning, a hotel that blasts cold air into every entry and room might be the way to go.

Service and nature set inns apart from hotels

If you like the idea of smaller buildings with more personal service farther off the beaten path but don’t want to stray too far from the main roads, an inn might be the place for you. And if you decide you want to stay in a hotel, here’s our list of the best in the world.

Cvent Guest

Cvent is a market-leading meetings, events, and hospitality technology provider with more than 4,000 employees, ~21,000 customers, and 200,000 users worldwide.

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