Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Unmarried Couples Restriction

Hindu marriage ceremony from a Rajput wedding.Image via Wikipedia
This question comes from Ashok - a homestay owner in Bangalore

Ashok :In the conservative Indian context, permitting unmarried couples to stay in a homestay can sometimes lead to problems, while in the context of western culture, many couples may actually be in a steady live-in relationship without marriage. In this scenario, to specify or not to specify "restrictions" for unmarried couples is a tricky dilemma for home stay owners.

Keeping in mind the basically conservative nature of Indian society and the fact that my property is located within a residential gated community, I have opted for "restriction" on unmarried couples. Will this adversely affect the possibility of foreigners using the homestay? Should we specify restrictions on a case by case basis? Given the target audience and the customer profile, what is your advice and view on this matter?

Regards,


Hi Ashok,

You raise a very interesting question and pardon me for answering it publicly on the blog instead of one-on-one by replying to your email. I however felt this is something that I should share with the other homestay owners.

For those who are wondering what this is about, on www.homestaysdos.com - we let property owners mention both, amenities, as well as restrictions within the property. One of the options we give, is to restrict Unmarried Couples. Many owners wonder if they should tick this or not, given the Indian sensibilities. Here is my view:-

Firstly, a bit about why I added this restriction to the list of restrictions. We are all adults and hence I will not beat around the bush but will use direct language - when I was starting this business, what I was worried about the most, was attracting the wrong type of customers- these would be attracted because homestays in general tend to be cheaper than hotels and also offer lesser supervision - typically in an independent vacation rental the owner may just visit the guests to hand over the keys and then meet them again on the day of checkout. I was most worried as an owner by two sub-categories of unmarried guests -

1. The college kids who would use the place as a private destination for activities that young people with hormones want to indulge in, but cannot, for lack of a private place.

But more importantly,
2. Clients using homestays as a rendezvous point for meetings with Commercial Sex Workers and other such anti-social elements.

I wanted to offer a restriction that hinted that the above two categories were not welcome but wanted to choose my words carefully to avoid saying anything negative on an open website. Hence the restriction was worded the way you read it today.

Having said that, what would I advise an owner who has to fill out the form on our website?
Think carefully about your property and decide on whether to mention this restriction in the context of your property - its location and typical use.

A good approach I would recommend in most cases would be as follows: Do not mention this as a "restriction" but screen potential clients using the in-built messaging system on homestaysdos.com. Remember, the messaging system is free and you can exchange an unlimited number of messages with the customer once he contacts you. You can easily phrase your questions well to understand if the customers fall in the above two categories - dead giveaways are usually the age of customers, the profile of the group, the number of days they are visiting etc.

Why go through this hassle instead of mentioning it explicitly ?

Because there are two categories that I have lesser issues with, and who, because of their travel habits, tend to be potential good customers for homestay owners. These are:-
1. Indian urban professionals who are in a relationship. This is increasingly common especially in certain sectors such as software, media etc. and these people are adults and commonly take vacations together.
2. Foreigners where culturally it is the norm to live together for years before committing to the institution of marriage. In fact, India is considered to be one of the places for a lot of foreigners to visit together, as a 'hardship' experience to see if they can go through married life.

Characteristics of these groups are that they would stay for a longer span of time, they are of similar social backgrounds - typically the Indian groups would be from affluent upper middle class backgrounds etc. They are in many ways indistinguishable from a married couple from similar backgrounds.

Mentioning the above restriction may explicitly turn away some of these travelers and your revenue from these segments may suffer.

However, if you are not ok with even these kinds of couples living in your homestay, I would encourage you to mention the restriction explicitly so that you don't have to do the tough job of disappointing a couple or else turning them away when they come to your city.

Another related question: What if my neighbors see my property and see that I don't have a restriction on unmarried couples and gossip?

1. What you don't have a restriction on is not mentioned on your property profile.
2. Homestaysdos.com has been designed to safeguard your privacy. Many owners choose explicitly to only give as much detail as is required for a traveler to evaluate the property and not to be able to identify the same. So for instance, they would not have photographs of the external elevation of their apartment complex. This ensures that nosey neighbours don't recognize your apartment and ask unnecessary questions about what is essentially none of their business. For the traveler, which building in the locality they are living in seldom makes a difference.

I would encourage all owners to go through all the features on the website and use them to their benefit. We have built some of these features keeping in mind these issues in the Indian context.

Please feel free to send me any more queries you might have. I will try and answer them on this forum so that everyone benefits. I also welcome your comments below.

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