Indian hotel apps offer young couples privacy – for a price

  • By Ammu Kannampilly / AFP, MUMBAI, India

A new series of Indian apps offering rooms to unmarried couples is helping to overturn traditional norms in a country where premarital sex remains taboo.

From StayUncle and BreviStay, which offer hourly packages, to Oyo, funded by Softbank, which allows users to search for hotels suitable for couples through its “relationship mode,” young entrepreneurs are tapping a previously neglected market with lucrative effect.

This development is good news for Pooja, a Mumbai-based public relations manager who tried to check into a hotel with her then-boyfriend in 2016 and found the romantic experience to quickly fade. deteriorated when staff inquired about her marital status.

Photo: AFP

“I could feel them judging me,” Pooja, whose name was changed at his request, told reporters.

Stung by their questions, she said she decided to lie.

“We were both over 18 – they had no reason to deny us a room, but it was so embarrassing,” she added.

His experience is not unusual in a country where many people live with their parents until they marry – either due to high housing costs or conservative cultural norms – leaving couples in desperate search. a little privacy.

Every night in Mumbai, dozens of canoodling lovebirds can be spotted along the city’s famous waterfront, with their backs to slow traffic as they search for personal space in the world’s second most populous nation.

Sometimes the consequences can be dangerous: Police raids hotels and demand bribes from unmarried guests, while Hindu extremists attack couples celebrating “Western” holidays like Valentine’s Day.

“People find it hard to come to terms with the idea that being in a relationship is a natural thing,” said Rahul Taneja, co-founder of LuvStay, one of many apps looking to shake up the hospitality industry with services for couples. unmarried.

“It’s a simple case of supply and demand. The rooms are there, the customers are there: the challenge is to bring them together, ”Taneja, 29, of LuvStay told reporters.

StayUncle founder Sanchit Sethi had originally planned to target business travelers with his app by focusing on hourly rentals, but when he started responding to requests from couples, he realized that he was targeting the wrong client.

Soon the former engineer found himself handing out business cards to young people hanging out in cafes – advertising his new business with the slogan, “Couples need a bedroom, not judgment.”

When the app launched in 2016, extremist groups threatened to beat Sethi and his colleagues, but “no one ever went beyond a phone call,” the 30-year-old told reporters.

Membership from hoteliers has proven to be more difficult to sell, with many worrying about police raids and offending the sensibilities of traditional customers.

In one case, a hotelier signed up only to be cold-blooded and deny guests at check-in, prompting Sethi to decide he wouldn’t spend any more time trying to “convince reluctant hotels.”

He didn’t need to worry, given the growing demand.

The app has 800 hotels in 45 cities and plans to add 1,500 more by the end of this year. He doesn’t hesitate to seek out new clients, with a YouTube channel offering dating advice for anxious singles.

With nearly 700 hotels, LuvStay is not far behind, with the ambition to increase this number to 2,000 within three years.

So-called “love hotels” are also popular in Japan and South Korea, with couples seeking either extramarital affairs or private time away from demanding families.

The Sahar Garden Hotel in Mumbai, which signed with StayUncle in 2018, said the merger added 150,000 rupees (US $ 2,097) to its coffers each month as the number of bookings increased.

“The business keeps growing,” said Satya Shankar Rao, hotel sales and marketing manager.

With free StayUncle-branded ‘love kits’ in every room – a silky red pouch containing condoms, lubricant, and chocolate – and staff under strict instructions to respect unmarried guests, the hotel has seen repeat business, Rao said.

Sunil Kyal, sales manager of Dragonfly boutique hotel in Mumbai, told reporters that StayUncle’s success reflected a generational change.

“People used to think that it is a sin or that it is not right” to be in a relationship before marriage, he said, noting the change in beliefs.

For young women like Pooja, 27, the apps are “a blessing”.

“We cannot expect Indian society to grow overnight, but I hope that in the future we will not need such applications anymore,” she said.

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Christina A. Kroll

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