Motel Love: A new app promising discretion and spontaneity for lovers launches in Bogotá

By Arjun Harindranath March 5, 2018

A new app just landed in Bogotá that helps loved-up couples get a room on short notice. The Bogotá Post talked to MotelNow‘s founder Eugenio Saavedra about wading into Colombia’s love industry.

For some, it’s the backseat of their mum’s Camaro. For others, it might be either behind the sheds or those golden hours at the apartment when their flatmate has a night-shift at McDonalds. And in some countries, the solution of where to take your lover is to book a motel in hourly installments.

The use of motels as ‘Love Hotels’ draws different responses in different countries. It reflects the underlying cultural expectations people might have when it comes to sex. In Japan, the concept of love hotels, where lovers reserve rooms for hours rather than nights, is widely known even if kept separate from polite company. It is legal, discreet and entire areas of cities like Tokyo’s Shibuya district are known for the phenomenon.

For many Colombians, the high cost of rental property and closer familial ties have led many young Colombians to stay at home with their parents into their early 30s. As a result, love hotels have sprouted around the country here too and they cater to the couple’s sense of urgency as well as their desire for privacy.

2 weeks ago, a new app that has seen success in Chile will be moving into Bogotá to try and muscle in on the love hotel scene in the Colombian capital. MotelNow allows lovers the chance to book rooms for hourly periods where couples can choose their rooms based on photos and prices. 12 hours in the Amazon suite, for example, might set you back around $35,000COP whereas you’re going to have to shell out the same amount for just four hours in the Trinidad Super VIP room.

Eugenio Saavedra, who founded MotelNow along with his friend José Miguel Hurtado in Chile, believed it was time MotelNow made their way into the love hotel scene in Colombia. Saavedra spoke to us the week they launched at Centrico in Bogotá on Valentine’s Day. “We saw over 5,000 downloads of the app that night.” Saavedra told us. This success probably reflected the blanket coverage they received in local media, with everyone from El Tiempo to Vice Magazine Colombia reporting on  their move from Chile to Colombia. The app also couldn’t come at a better time as Colombia has faced sky-high hotel occupancy rates over the last 12 months, as per official statistics body DANE.

A little like Airbnb for lovers, the concept rests on the foundations of spontaneity and anonymity; spontaneity because the lovers have 30 minutes to reach their motel before their booking expires and anonymity because almost none of the customer’s details are recorded during the transaction. “If you want you can write your name but it’s optional. All the info is on the motels themselves, not the user.” Saavedra told us, noting that only the age and gender of the customer are recorded.

Today they have over 10,000 downloads and Saavedra said that “70% are men and the biggest age range is between 24 and 35. The second biggest segment is between 18 and 24 years old. Those two segments are more than 60% of our customers.”

Having looked at Lima, Buenos Aires and Mexico City, MotelNow settled on Bogotá for its wide variety of motels (over a thousand), a large  population and the strength of internet connectivity. Saavedra told us that starting up in Chile (they were initially funded by the Government of Chile and Microsoft’s Imagine Lab in Chile) was a boon as it allowed them to move on more smoothly into another marketplace. “Now that we have that knowledge, it allows us to do things better and we’re seeing results immediately.” Saavedra said. In 3 or 4 months they’ll be in Medellín and Cali.

The love hotel industry in Colombia intersects with sex tourism and the wider use of prostitution and we asked Saavedra about whether MotelNow acts as a conduit for the sex tourism industry. According to the Bogota council, there are over 23,000 sex-workers in Bogotá alone. This number is even greater in Medellin, Cartegena and the Coffee Triangle cities of Manizales and Pereira.  “We don’t promote sex tourism.” Saavedra told us, “We’re a service that allows users information about motels that is not available right now. There’s no other app that includes all the info about motels like where they are and what they offer or how much it costs. We’re just getting that information to the people.” Saavedra also mentioned that their customers come from all walks of life. “We have married couples going to motels also, it’s not just for sex tourists.”

Just like cryptocurrency walked into overlapping segments (used by disrupters and drug dealers alike), MotelNow may have waded into the sex industry without entirely intending to be within it.

All of this may have to be negotiated in the new love hotel landscape as MotelNow enters the Colombian market. At the very least, it’s better than the backseat of your mum’s Camaro.