A new television commercial by the Microtel motel chain conveys an unflattering light on the three surviving Frank Redford-designed wigwam-style motels, including two on Route 66, says at least one of their owners.
The manager of the Wigwam Motel in Rialto, Calif., is considering a defamation suit or other legal action against the chain, and the owner of the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Ariz., is investigating action for a possible trademark violation. Both motels are on Route 66.
The 30-second ad starts with a photo of desolate, deserted-looking motel office, then an image of one of the Wigwam Motels. A voiceover says “With some hotels, you’ll never know what you’ll get” over the segment. The rest of the ad then explains the benefits of Microtel hotels.
See it for yourself:
A close examination of the Wigwam Motel photo indicates it came from the Holbrook site. The wigwams are aligned in a row, while the other wigwams in Rialto and Cave City, Ky., are arranged more in a semi-circle. Also, the image indicates a gravel or concrete lot in front of the wigwams, like in Holbrook. The other two motels have green lawns in front of them.
The “Hotel Office” sign appears to have been digitally added. No such sign exists at the motels in that configuration.
Greg Gaszak, who lives in St. Clair, Mo., said in a telephone interview he first saw the commercial last Monday on a St. Louis television affiliate. He used his TiVo to record the ad, then sent a cellphone image of the Wigwam Motel footage to Kumar Patel, manager of the Rialto motel.
Patel, whose family has owned the motel since 2003, found the same commercial posted on YouTube. Wyndham Hotel Group owns Microtel and more than a dozen other motel brands, including Super 8, Travelodge, Knights Inn, Ramada, Days Inn, Howard Johnson, Baymont, and Wingate.
“Wyndham is a big corporation, and I was shocked, because it is going after mom-and-pop motel owners,” Patel said during a phone interview.
The Microtel ad went live on YouTube on May 22, according to the account of “shanewelter1,” who uploaded it. It’s the only video on that account. Attempt to reach the account-holder were unsuccessful.
To date, the YouTube video has just one “like” and 18 “dislikes” from viewers. Most of the dislikes came from Route 66 fans who were alerted by Patel.
Patel said he contacted Wyndham’s legal department Tuesday. He said he received little response from the person on the other line, except “I’ll have to get back to you.”
Clifton Lewis, owner of the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, said during a telephone interview Sunday night he wasn’t previously aware of the ad. Upon being informed of its content, he said he would consult with his brother on possible legal action — especially with a possible trademark violation.
“I haven’t given anyone permission to use the image (of the motel),” Lewis said of the ad.
Attempts to reach the owner of the Wigwam Village Inn in Cave City, Ky., were not successful. However, a housekeeper who answered the phone said she wasn’t made aware of the commercial.
Wyndham’s media contacts didn’t respond to emails from Route 66 News.
Patel acknowledged he’s reluctant to pursue a lawsuit. But, at the least, he says he wants the ad removed from the airwaves. He says its financial impact could be more pernicious than just to his property.
“When people are traveling Route 66 and see that commercial, they may stay at a non-66 motel,” he said. “It’s not just the Wigwam Motel that could be affected.”
Wyndham may argue that the ad’s prologue is somewhat ambiguous. However, there seems little doubt Microtel is trying to portray the a Wigwam Motel negatively.
If the Wigwams were marginal properties, the ad might be excusable. However, both of the Wigwam properties on Route 66 consistently receive positive reviews from users of TripAdvisor and Yelp. Even the lesser-known Wigwam Village Inn in Cave City earns above-average ratings.
Also, all three properties are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. So they have official cachet, too.