History of Hotels

The invention of money and wheels in the 5th century BC are considered to be the two main factors that led to the emergence of innkeeping and hospitality as a commercial activity. While Europe can be safely considered the cradle of organized hotel management, it is the Americas that has seen the evolution of the modern hotel industry over the past century.

From primitive ancient inns to state-of-the-art facilities today that provide everything under the sun of modern travellers, the hotel industry has come a long way. The origin and growth of the hotel industry can be studied broadly in the following periods:

ancient ages
grand tour
modern age
ancient ages
The earliest recorded evidence of accommodation facilities in Europe dates back to 500 BC. In an ancient city such as Corinth in Greece, there were a significant number of establishments that offered beds as well as food and drink to travelers. Biblical inns were of the primitive type, offering a cot or bench in the corner of a room, and sometimes even a barn. Travelers used to stay in a great hall. Privacy and personal cleanliness were not available.

In the 3rd century AD, numerous accommodation establishments mushroomed, along with the vast network of brick-paved roads across Europe and the small Asin (part of Asia adjacent to Europe). Accommodation hotels were known as mansions at that time.

These conditions persisted for several hundred years until the Industrial Revolution in England led to the development of railways and steamships, making travel more efficient, comfortable and faster. The Industrial Revolution also brought about a shift in the focus of travel, which became more business-oriented than educational or social.

The leading organized hotel business, as we see it today, was taken up by the developing countries of Europe, especially Switzerland. The first establishment was mainly patronized by the aristocracy and took shape in chalets (small cottages) and small hotels offering a variety of services. Between 1750 and 1825, inns in Britain gained the reputation of being the finest lodging establishments.

grand tour
The second half of the eighteenth century, before the French Revolution (1780-990), is referred to as the "golden age of travel" because the popularity of the "Grand Tour" gave the hotel industry a huge boost. The Grand Tour of the European continent was established as an indispensable element of the education of the children of wealthy families in England.

It was a good business opportunity to set up accommodation, transport and recreational facilities in the leading cities of France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Ireland, as this tour usually takes several years. The forward-thinking entrepreneurs who smelt money in the drill honed their hospitality skills and pioneered the modern hotel industry.

Among the hotels that emerged during this period, the prominent ones were Dolder Grand in Zurich, Imperia in Vienna, Jahreszeiten in Hamburg and Des Bergues in Geneva. In 1841, Thomas Cook, a simple cabinet brand, took a rail tour from Leicester to Loughborough and immortalized himself as the world's first tour operator.

modern age
Improvisation in the mode of transport made journeys safer, easier and faster, enabling frequent mass movement as well as economical. The introduction of the funicular (cable car) made the high-altitude mountains accessible, leading to the growth of many hotels in the Alps. Bürgenstock and Giessbach are among the hotels in Switzerland that owe their existence to the development of cable cars.

Two world wars, especially the second (1939-45), negatively affected the hospitality industry. The devastation caused by the war and the resulting economic depression was a major setback for the travel business. The 1950s witnessed the slow and steady growth of travel across the European continent.

The development of aircraft and commercial passenger flights across the Atlantic has spurred this worldwide and in the process fueled the growth of the hotel industry.

But it is American entrepreneurs who have literally changed the face of the hospitality industry with their innovations and aggressive marketing. City Hotel's accommodation facilities in the Americas were modeled on European-style taverns or inns before they were built.

However, City Hall triggered a race among American hoteliers, resulting in the construction of large hotels. The great depression decade of the 1930s witnessed the liquidity of most hotels in America. The hotel industry became streamlined with slow and steady growth in the 1940s. The rise in automobile travel in the 1950s led to the rise of a new category in the hotel industry, 'motor hotels' or motels.

Offering free parking, the motel served as a rest home for people traveling between two cities or tourist destinations. The following decades saw the massive growth of motels as well as the introduction of budget hotels with basic amenities at half the price. Gradually, over time, they evolved into nationwide and international chains.