Can a woman stay in the same hotel room with a man she is not married to or vice versa? Seems an outdated question in this day and age? Not exactly, says the hospitality industry.
When six students from Pune, four boys and two girls, decided to set out to see Kerala in October last year, they hadn’t bargained on being told there are no hotel rooms available for unmarried couples.
"We hadn’t done any advanced hotel booking as this trip was planned on an impulse. We directly approached three hotels, but they denied us rooms saying they did not rent rooms to unmarried couples," one of the students told The News Minute.
Do hotels have the legal authority to deny rooms to unmarried couples? No, say lawyers and an official of the Hotel Association of India.
"There is no law that prohibits unmarried couples from staying together in hotels. Choosing to stay together is a personal choice and falls under freedom of movement, which cannot be restricted," says senior advocate Sudha Ramalingam.
The Hotel Association of India (HAI), the umbrella organisation that oversees over 280 hotels and resorts across the country says there is no such stipulation. "We are not aware of any such rules," says a HAI’s spokesperson, Bharat Bhushan.
The Hotel Association’s official stance seems to be in denial of the accepted practice.
Why do we call it an accepted practice? Check this fine print of booking conditions set out by a leading online travel portal Cleartrip.
"The hotel reserves the right of admission. Accommodation can be denied to guests posing as a 'couple’ if suitable proof of identification is not presented at check-in. Cleartrip will not be responsible for any check-in denied by the hotel due to the aforesaid reason."
Cleartrip, in an email to The News Minute, confirmed their policy saying, "These are standard hotel policies passed on to us directly from the Hotel, that we publish for the knowledge of customers making hotel-reservations via our website".
MakeMyTrip also has the same policy.
The denial by hotels prompted us to check out if it was necessary for couples to be married, before they ventured to travel together.
"Hello. Hotel ABC."
"Hi. I want to book a room for two adults."
"Sure Ma’am. Please let me check for the availability."
"Hello, we do have a room available. You want a room for two people, right?"
"That’s right. We are two people, my male friend and I. We are not married though. I hope that won’t be a problem?"
"My male friend and I will be staying together. Will that be an issue?"
The News Minute contacted various hotels across India to know whether they had an issue with an unmarried couple sharing a hotel room. And it was not just hotels in Kerala that had a problem with a "Mr and Miss" check-in.
The answers to our attempts to book rooms ranged from absolute refusal to obfuscation.
"Sorry, but we do not allow unmarried couples to share rooms in the hotel."
"Errr… Mmm… I will have to check with my senior."
"Male friend as in? Family member? Or cousin?"
"So you’ll are two people with individual id cards but are unmarried and want to stay in a room together? Please leave me an email me at email@example.com"
"Yes, that won’t be a problem as long as both of you carry id proofs."
The obvious assumption emerging out of the refusal by hotels to allow unmarried couples to share rooms despite no official guidelines appear to be a case of moral policing. While live-in relations were considered taboo for several decades, in 2013, India’s apex court had sought to de-stigmatise relations outside matrimony by ruling "Live-in or marriage-like relationship is neither a crime nor a sin though socially unacceptable in this country".
At times though hotels rent rooms to unmarried couples, some ask for couples to sign in as 'Mr. and Mrs.' in the hotel register. Hoteliers say it is a case of playing safe than sorry.
"There are no specific rules laid down by the government about renting a room in a hotel 'to a male and a female who are unmarried'. Hotels that have such rules, mostly are unsure about renting rooms to a man and a woman who are unmarried. If the couple is caught engaging in illegal activities, the hotel will also fall into some major trouble. It is to avoid such a situation, that hotels may include such a policy," explains K Ramamurthy, Secretary, of the Bruhat Bangalore Hotels Association.
When asked whether married couples were incapable of carrying out "illegal" activities, Ramamurthy said "this is a topic where several arguments are possible. A man and a woman, who are unmarried, staying together in a hotel room are also not considered a part of our custom. For what purpose does a man and a woman, both unmarried, want to live in a hotel room?," adds Ramamurthy.
While there are legal ways of tackling written rules, the unwritten reasons for refusal, citing administrative discretionary powers, are far more challenging. For now, the only guaranteed solution to avoid being left room-less while on a holiday is to check in advance if your hotel is likely to chaperone you and your partner.
This is an updated version of the original piece which was published on The News Minute on November 24, 2014.