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May '05

The beginnings of the hotel industry

There have been places for the tired and weary traveler to stop and stay at since time immemorial. After all, Jesus himself was born in a stable – having been turned away from an Inn. The Romans exported the concept of thermal baths all over Europe (notably to Britain) during their time as colonial power. And even the Greeks has a form of an Inn in their heyday. But, when can we say the hotel industry really developed into the multi-million dollar business sector that it has become today?

The Early Days – filing in the register
If we are not to include that period of time when the Romans and Greeks were busy looking after worn weary travelers – but try to look back to the time when the modern hotel was born – then, depending on where in the world you live, the earliest “legalized” forms of hotels started to spring up between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. The thirteenth century is the date often cited as being the time when staging posts in China and Mongolia first started to appear. However, its questionable whether you can really differentiate between these and those earlier Inns kept by the Romans. So, if we are really looking for the first form of “legalized” hotel, then the period would have to be the fifteenth century: when both French and English law started to require Inns to keep a register of all their guests.

The brand name
Around the same time as French and English law required Inns to keep registers of their guest, Inns started to take on the shape of hostelries. In their primitive form, the architecture of these places was such that they contained a paved interior court, which could be accessed through an arched porch. Both sides of the courtyard had rooms for lodging in. On the outside of the “hotel” was hung a signboard announcing to the world that it was both a place to stay and eat – and the brand name was born!

The business and leisure travelers
The next real step in the development of the hotel industry came as a result of two major events in mankind’s overall development – (i) the stage coach, which used to stop off at Inns on its way between towns; and (ii) the Industrial Revolution, which resulted in the first real business and leisure travelers. The second of these two events also caused the first hotels to be built in city centers – notably, the first inner-city hotel was built in New York City.
At about the same time modern day spas started to spring up all over the place – notably mainland Europe – and well-heeled travelers started to venture further a field, to North Africa and India.

Le Grand Hotel Paris
All of the earlier developments in the hotel industry finally came together in the culmination of the world’s first “Grand Hotel” – Le Grand Hotel, Paris. Le Grand opened its doors for business in 5 May 1862 with a spectacular inauguration presided over by Empress Eugenie. Although many a fine hotel has opened since Le Grand, and although many may claim the accolade of being more luxurious than Le Grand, anyone contemplating a night’s stay in a Paris hotel still has the choice of a night at Le Grand: evidence that to this day, hotels are here to stay!