A ramada was originally an open shelter roofed with branches; this word is from the Spanish word for branch ("rama") and came into English in the U.S. Southwest. The Oxford English Dictionary first records it in 1869. It expanded to mean any sort of open shelter or porch that might provide some shade.

Ramada is also a North American hotel chain, a subsidiary of Cendant Corporation, which also owns Days Inn, Super 8 Motels, Avis car rentals, Coldwell Banker and Century 21 real estate, and Jackson Hewitt tax preparers. Ramada is a franchise system, and they have three "tiers" of hotels: the low-budget Ramada Limited ("for guests who don't need a restaurant or lounge in their hotel"); the mid-level Ramada Inn; and the top-of-their-line Ramada Plaza Hotel. However, I am having no luck finding any company history information. Ramada hotels outside the U.S. and Canada are operated by Marriott, which licenses the name.

Sources:
http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/00196788
http://wordsmith.org/awad/archives/0402
http://www.ramada.com/
http://www.ramadahotels.com/
http://www.hoovers.com

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