When young men and women shy away from celebrating "valentine's day" fearing moral policing and physical attacks by the self-appointed social conscience-keepers, an entrepreneur has decided to come to the rescue of unmarried young couples in Delhi and Mumbai.
StayUncle, a New Delhi-based start-up, launched in April 2015, has tied up with hotels where unmarried couples can rent rooms for duration as short as 8-10 hours. Where most hotels ask a dozen questions before accepting a reservation from a couple, StayUncle is positioning itself to become a couple-friendly hotel booking service, where you will be asked only for your ID proof.
The idea is to help them with affordable rooms, without feeling uncomfortable or unsafe. In the past three months, the company has already catered to some 200 couples.
Founder of the start-up, Sanchit Sethi insists on a need to change the mindset of the people, “There is no law in India that prohibits unmarried couples from renting a room. As long as you have a government identity card, you should be given a room. We don’t live in the 1950s anymore. What we are trying to do is change the mindset of hoteliers.”
The journey started with Sethi's initial business plan of offering hotel rooms for short duration's to travelers. Most hotels in India take reservations on a 24-hour basis—a relatively expensive affair. Together with Blaze Arizanov, a digital marketer, the duo launched StayUncle in April 2015 for which he received first angel investment of a few lakhs from Ajay Naqvi, the country marketing manager for Airbnb.
But some observations made him change his plans, “What was surprising was that 99% of the enquiries we were receiving were from unmarried couples looking for rooms,” says Sethi, a Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS)-Pilani graduate. That’s when StayUncle decided to take a relook at its business. We started fresh all over again. This time, with the focus on unmarried couples.”
The first hotel to tie-up with StayUncle was Ace Residency, a budget hotel in New Delhi, which allowed rooms to be booked for unmarried couples. Since then, the company has tied up with 34 others in the capital and 10 in Mumbai. With marquee properties such as the Trident and Oberoi joining them, StayUncle plans to start helping young people plan surprise parties or travel, with the intention of building an ecosystem around unmarried couples.
Many hoteliers are reluctant to join, fearing “unnecessary hassles” from cops. “Out of 10 hotels we speak to, only two or three eventually sign up. This is a new industry and people often see this as going against the culture of the country and there is always the fear of moral policing, “says Sethi.
Also, to ensure privacy is taken seriously by hoteliers, Sethi ties up only with reputed hotels. “If you see, we currently only tie up with hotels that have a reputation and they would not allow something that puts their business at stake,” said Sethi. “Of course, I wouldn’t say the problem can be completely eliminated, but we know that these hotels we tie up with would never ever do it.”