A startup that helps couples looking for a room

Thanks to a start-up, the hospitality industry is learning to cater to couples looking for privacy and safety away from home

A startup that helps couples looking for a room

Garima Sadhwani

In conservative India, a start up is helping unmarried couples find a room, summed up Business Insider. StayUncle boasts of having served 1.14 lakh couples in 40 Indian cities in partnership with over a thousand hotels. And, hold your breath, not a single complaint of harassment or an ‘incident’ reported.

The website of StayUncle promises couples a hassle-free check-in, a friendly ambience, no judgment and no questions asked. The ‘bold’ venture is also brazen enough to assure that some of the partner hotels would also provide condoms, lubricants and, well, chocolates to be shared. An additional service is for hotels which would welcome LGBTQ couples.

Originally designed as a one-stop solution for business travellers, StayUncle transitioned to cater to couples. “We wanted hotels to time size their rooms for businessmen but we kept getting calls from couples,” says Sanchit Sethi, founder of StayUncle. After ignoring calls for 8-9 months, he realised that this market had a better potential to tap into.

“It’s not as if renting rooms to couples is illegal, but it’s still so difficult for them to find safe and secure spaces,” says Sethi. Amit Sharma, the CEO of the company, says that though youth form a big chunk of the population, the hospitality industry has still not shifted its focus to them. But for StayUncle, their “love kit, bathtubs and microstays” have created traction among younger people.

Sethi remembers how the first 20 pitches of his new start-up received a straightforward “No” from hotels. He also remembers receiving calls from people across the country. “People thought we were spoiling the culture of India and doing something immoral,” sighs Sethi. Some people actually reached his office once because they were offended by social media posts and advertisements.

Back when it was a company of just 5-6 people, the team members would go to different parks in Delhi to spread word about their venture. Police officers often warned them that if any untoward incident were to take place, they’d be held responsible. Sethi has come a long way since then. Over 1800 hotels, he claims, now assure room and safety to consenting adults.

StayUncle educates and sensitises the staff of each hotel they’ve partnered with so that those booking rooms do not have to be at the receiving end of unprofessional behaviour. This becomes all the more important since StayUncle has guaranteed a safe, hassle free experience to couples. Sharma adds that now their focus is now on normalising unmarried couples staying together in tier-2 and tier-3 cities. “StayUncle in its name denotes a single gender and we would soon change it to something like StayPartner,” he informs.

Asked who his competitor is in the industry, he laughs. “I don’t see any other company positioning themselves as a couple-friendly organisation, or openly talking about the practice of safe sex as we do.”

StayUncle is ironically thankful to the pandemic. First, many branded hotels which were not willing to partner with them earlier, agreed to try it out. Uncle Sethi is basking in his success and does have a word of advice for young entrepreneurs. “Keep persisting, no matter how hard it gets,” he says philosophically before adding, “Be organic and true to your brand and your customers. And lastly, follow your heart.”

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday.)

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