There used to be just one kind of place that gave out rooms in hourly batches. Not any more.
Responding to demand from travellers — mainly business and transit, but also day trippers and roadies — a rash of new apps and websites are helping guests book rooms for anything from 3 to 12 hours, and pay accordingly.
And no, these aren’t just rest houses and lodges; they range, in fact, from budget to boutique and starred hotels.
Among the apps and websites, then, are 6Hourly, HotelsAroundYou and Chatur Musafir (Hindi for Smart Traveller), all set up within the past two years.
The term for such bookings is micro-stays, and the concept first became popular in Europe during the economic downturn of 2008, after which it spread to the US and then parts of south-east Asia.
With changing market dynamics, including online bookings and real-time reviews, hotels too must change, says Adarsh Shetty, president of AHAR, the Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association. “Micro-stays are a reflection and a part of that change.”
They’re certainly making some hotels more popular.
The Park in Delhi, for instance, has seen five micro-stay bookings a month since it tied up with 6Hourly at its beta-stage launch six months ago. Of these, 95% came from business and 5% from leisure travellers, who stayed for 12 hours and paid 30% to 50% of the rack rate.
“In a price-sensitive market, if we can resell the same room in a same-day cycle and double our revenue, then why not,” says Sujith Chandrasekharan, director of rooms and the man leading the micro-stay initiative at Park properties across Kolkata, Hyderabad, Chennai, Goa and Navi Mumbai.
At the Taj Lands End in Mumbai, there is no new-age aggregator involved, but the five-star hotel came to the micro-stay model on its own. Land’s End now offers four-hour stays between 9 am and 6 pm.
“Given today’s hectic work schedules, people find it difficult to plan holidays in advance. Checking into a hotel, even in their own city, can provide a break from the routine. Since these guests may not necessarily want to rent the room for an entire night, we came up with the micro-stay option,” says Zal Tarapore, director of rooms at Taj Lands End.
Courtyard by Marriott in Gurgaon and Sahara Star in Mumbai both introduced micro-stay options three years ago too, responding to the many short-stay inquiries they received from business travellers.
The on-demand hyperlocal market itself is growing, especially with the growing number of smartphone users, adds Mohsin Dingankar, co-founder of HotelsAroundYou, a last-minute hotel booking app that introduced the micro-stay option 18 months ago.
“When you can have groceries or food delivered at the tap of a button, on-demand hotel bookings are simply the next step,” he says.
The transit model
Two years ago, ad executive Preeti Jain and her husband Manish, a businessman, were travelling from Coimbatore to Jodhpur by flight and then train, with a nine-hour gap in between.
“We needed a room for, say, six hours. Just to wash up and relax. But we still ended up paying the full day’s tariff,” says Preeti, 35. “We decided to do something about that, and that’s how Chatur Musafir [Smart Traveller] came into being.”
Their website now allows guests to book hotel rooms in packs of 3, 6 and 9 hours. In 19 months, it has seen 14,000 micro-stay bookings at 2-, 3- and 4-star hotels across 15 cities, including metros like Mumbai and Bangalore, smaller cities like Kochi and Amritsar and pilgrim towns like Shirdi.
Jodhpur-based businessman Manoj Vaid used the website while driving to Mumbai, paying just Rs 1,000 for a 10-hour stay at a 3-star hotel in Ahmedabad, which would have otherwise cost Rs 3,000 (for 24 hours).
“I much prefer inter-city drives to trains or flights, but finding a nice, reasonable place to stop for the night was always a problem,” he says. “Four months ago I stumbled upon Chatur Musafir while searching the internet with word combinations like day-hotels, short-stays etc. This time, I checked in at 10 pm, slept through the night, had a shower the next morning, grabbed my complimentary breakfast and was back on the road by 8 am. It was convenient and great value for money.”
Hotels around you
Website and app HotelsAroundYou was co-founded by Mohsin Dingankar 2.5 years ago, mainly to facilitate last-minute hotel bookings for business travellers.
Dingankar launched the portal with Animesh Chaudhary and Harsha Nallur, his electronic engineering batchmates from University of Mumbai.
Having researched distress inventory management in the hospitality sector, followed micro-stay startups abroad, and received numerous requests from customers, the micro-stay option was added a year in.
The app now has 25 partner hotels in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Pune, with whom it has tied up at specially negotiated prices for 4-, 8- and 12-hour slots.
Travellers can book a micro-stay as little as 30 minutes in advance. Couples, however, are not allowed.
“Most check-ins happen in the evening and checkouts in the morning, so hotels have unoccupied rooms between 9 am and 6 pm. Those are the slots we have negotiated for,” says Dingankar. “It’s a win-win.”
By the quarter
Delhi resident Suresh Nair, regional general manager for AirAsia Berhad, has used 6 Hourly four times in the last three months. Most of these times were en route Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok from Delhi, via Bangalore, where he often has to wait up to 12 hours for the ongoing flight.
“It works very well for me,” he says. “Rather than being harried, I am well-rested when I land the next day, and ready to dive into work.”
This six-month-old website and app, still in its beta version, was set up by Bangalore-based serial travel entrepreneur Seetharaman N, 60, exclusively to offer micro-stays.
“There have been several times when I passed through a city for a quick meeting or a long stopover and thought it would have been nice to have a room for a short stay,” says Seetharaman.
So, on this app, customers can choose their time slot, and they can select from differently priced hour packs to suit their needs.
Hotels across 19 cities have hopped on board, eyeing the portal’s target audience of pilgrims, concert- and trade fare-goers, sports fans, and of course business and transit travellers.
Stay Uncle: Playing cupid?
You’ve probably heard at least something about Stay Uncle by now. Their tagline — Couples need a room, not judgement — has sparked mirth, applause, censure and debate since it surfaced online last week.
This year-old website also started off as a micro-stay aggregator, targeting the usual mix of business, solo and leisure travellers. But it was three months ago that they found their USP — partnering with hotels that would give out rooms to couples, no questions asked, for 10 to 12 hours.
So far, they have 33 hotels in Delhi and NCR on board, and are in talks with 10 in Mumbai. “Given the taboo against this kind of thing in India, it hasn’t been easy to add hotels in this category,” says co-founder Sanchit Sethi, 26, a software engineer who gave up a corporate job in Goa to start the website. “But we are focused on couples.”
There are teething issues, he adds, such as ensuring that minors don’t check in. “We ask hotels to check ID and always turn minors away,” Sethi says.
The website has seen 250 bookings in three months, with a spike in bookings last week.
IN A NUTSHELL: WHAT ARE MICRO-STAYS?
* Disrupting the traditional 24-hour check-in-check-out cycle, micro-stays allow travellers to book hotel rooms for fewer hours and pay less too.
* While Japan’s ‘capsule hotels’ that offer tiny sleeping spaces to businessmen and its ‘love hotels’ for space-starved couples have been around for a while, micro-stays first become popular in Europe during the economic downturn of 2008, and then spread to the US and south-east Asia.
* Here, hotels ranging from budget to boutique and five-stars such as Courtyard by Marriott in Gurgaon and Sahara Star in Mumbai have begun to offer the option over the past three years.
* Websites and apps such as 6 Hourly, Stay Uncle, Chatur Musafir and HotelsAroundYou have also joined the game, acting as aggregators and tying up with hotels to offer packages in cities across the country.
* Options range from 3 to 12 hours, although many aggregators refuse to entertain unmarried couples.