For Sunil and Amrita, a young couple, travelling out of station was a hassle, especially when it came to getting a hotel room or place to stay. Before there are suggestions of hotel and room aggregator platforms, let’s make something clear: Sunil and Amrita aren’t married.
In India, an unmarried couple seeking a room together is so tabooed that moral policing by hotel staff isn’t an uncommon phenomenon. “Sorry, but are you married?” “I don’t see a mangalsutra on her neck.” “Can I see an ID that shows you are married?” —the list of archaic and inane questions can be endless.
This attitude towards pre-martial sex is starkly in contrast with the reality in India. As a result, unmarried couples wishing to rent a room for a night is largely frowned upon. Enter startups like StayUncle and, more recently, OYO Rooms, with its launch of ‘Relationship Mode’ on its platform.
It has taken steps to remove the tag – ‘No hotel rooms for unmarried couple’ for some of its hotels. On OYO Rooms Relationship Mode, you get to see only those listed hotels that are welcome to unmarried couples. These hotels allow unmarried couples even with local IDs to check in without any hassles.
Kavikrut, Chief Growth Officer, OYO says that over the course of time, as they analysed guest feedback, they found that couples were likely to face inconvenience at the last minute, on account of hotel policies not being communicated to them earlier. Explaining this to YourStory, Kavikrut says:
We are respectful of our partners but we are equally committed to ensuring that every guest feels welcome at OYO. So, our teams worked on solving this problem using a mix of technology and rich content. There is no law in India that prohibits hotels from hosting unmarried guests, or those who belong to the same city as the hotel's location.
However, some partners chose to restrict their check-ins. The team say that they have simply made it transparent and easy for couple-guests to discover those hotels that offer them a seamless check-in upon furnishing the required ID proof. They are listed both on the website and the company's app.
'Relationship Mode' feature kicks in by changing status on the 'My account' section of the app. Unlike StayUncle, however, Kavikrut adds that they aren’t catering to a niche audience. He explains:
As a customer-focussed business, we are identifying and solving problems that can impact the stay experience. Our promise is there is an OYO for everyone, and with this launch we are making sure couples can identify and check-in to their OYO without any hassle.
The team claims that couple-friendly OYOs are available across 100 cities in India, and 60 percent of their current inventory qualifies as couple-friendly. These cover all metros and top leisure destinations. OYO presently offers 70,000 rooms in 200 cities through 6,500 partners.
While progressive, both StayUncle and OYO have to deal with the moral policing from not only local government officials, but also vigilantes and the local community, as couples so much as holding hands in public is seen as something against the country's culture. Also, when it comes to unmarried couples leasing out a hotel room, there was the Madh-Island case, where the Mumbai Police had detained people on the same excuse.