A new raft of platforms which offer rooms to unmarried duos are helping overturn traditional norms in a country where premarital sex remains taboo From StayUncle and BreviStay, which offer hourly packages, to Softbank-funded Oyo, which allows users to search for couple-friendly hotels via its ‘Relationship Mode’, young entrepreneurs are tapping into a previously neglected market to lucrative effect.
The development is good news for Pooja, a Mumbai-based PR executive who tried to check in to a hotel with her then boyfriend in 2016 and found that the romantic experience quickly turned ugly as staff enquired about her marital status.“I could feel them judging me,” Pooja, whose name has been changed on her request, she said.
Stung by their questions, she decided to lie. “We were both above 18 they had no reason to deny us a room, but it was all just so awkward,” she said.Her experience is not unusual in a country where many people live with their parents until they marry either because of high housing costs or conservative cultural norms leaving courting couples desperate for a shred of privacy.
On any given evening in Mumbai, dozens of canoodling lovebirds can be spotted along the city’s famous seafront, their backs to the slow-moving traffic as they seek out personal space in the world’s second-most populous nation.
Sometimes the consequences can be dangerous: police raid hotels and demand bribes from unmarried guests, while Hindu hardliners attack couples celebrating ‘Western’ holidays like Valentine’s Day.
“People have a hard time accepting the idea that being in a relationship is a natural thing,” said Rahul Taneja, co-founder of LuvStay, one of several apps seeking to shake up the hospitality industry with services aimed at unmarried couples.
“It is a simple case of supply and demand. The rooms are there, the customers are there, the challenge is to bring them together,” LuvStay’s 29-year-old Taneja said.StayUncle founder Sanchit Sethi initially planned to target business travellers with his app focusing on hourly rentals but when he began fielding enquiries from couples he realised he was targeting the wrong customer.