Heritage or just old – what experience to expect at a Howard Johnson hotel

Howard Johnson’s, lovingly called HoJo’s, is one of the many Wyndham Worldwide hotel brands. It has a rather turbulent history, leaving it with almost 400 hotels in North & Latin America, Europe and Asia, ranging from old roadside motels in the US to upscale, full-service hotels in Asia. That turbulent history makes HoJo’s one of the most difficult to describe hotel experiences for me – read why that is!

Who are they? Howard Johnson’s started in 1925 and became the largest chain of restaurants in the US in the 1960’ and 70s with more than 1,000 outlets. In the 1950s, they also opened roadside motels. They had a rather turbulent time and went through a number of different owners with different strategies, In the 90s, HoJo’s expanded to include different tiers, from full-service HoJo Plaza and Hotels to basic Howard Johnson’s Inn and Express Inns, all with different amenities and services. They peaked at over 500 hotels in the 90s and became part of the Wyndham Group in 2006. Since then, Wyndham has declared Howard Johnson a core brand and attempted to focus on a single tier of hotels in the mid-scale segment, yet the number of properties has shrunk to under 400 and there is still a wide range of properties under this brand, from economy roadside motels to more upscale ones in Asia.
Wyndham describes them as follows:
For value-conscious families looking for familiar and dependable accommodations, Howard Johnson is a nationally recognized lodging chain with a heritage of hospitality.”
The heritage is still found in the bright orange of the logo (it used to be the color of the restaurant roofs) and the ice cream they used to serve! It’s a cut and dry description, that simply describes their focus on families and leisure traveler, offering them basic accommodation on the road.

What experience can I expect? Wyndham has some of the least consistent brands and is not enforcing their brand standards nearly as much as for example Marriott. A brand new Howard Johnson hotel might implement the corporate design standards to the letter, delivering a modern mid-scale experience. But Wyndham does not require older hotels to upgrade, so there are at least four generations of interior design in the market today, with the oldest not having seen a remodel in decades. You can see below the ancient room decor and old room design, both available in the market today.
wyndham-howardjohnson-design1_2And then you can see the evolution to a modern design and the latest decor a newly built Howard Johnson would feature – rooms I’d enjoy to stay in!
wyndham-howard-johnson-design3_4Those are stock pictures from the design brochures, describing how a new hotel should look like.  Add to that years and years of wear and tear, poor lighting and it’s hardly recognizable. Below you can see the stock photo used on the Wyndham website and a real photo of the rooms I stayed at!
wyndham-howard-johnson-new_oldAs you can see, the experience you can expect will vary greatly with the individual hotel. From a worn-out, old motel to a bright & modern mid-scale hotel, you’ll find a very wide range of hotels under the Howard Johnson name. Therefore, I don’t recommend to stay at a HoJo because of the brand. Instead, I suggest that you evaluate each as an individual property, look at the web site photos to make sure it is a new or recently renovated property and read online reviews carefully. If the photos are similar to the top pictures, it’s likely to be an old hotel not renovated in years and I’d stay away. Read my experience at the Howard Johnson South Lake Tahoe to get a better idea how bad it can be.
If it is a new or renovated one with good reviews, you will likely have a better experience. One positive aspect is that Howard Johnson participates in the Wyndham Rewards program, which has been rated as the top value among hotel reward programs. You can read my review of the program here! That can give a HoJo hotel a leg up over non-branded economy hotels with all else being equal.


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