Its A Backpackers Paradise at OYO Townhouse 011 Esplanade

Live on a budget with no compromise on comfort in the backpacker quarter of the city
A view of the OYO Townhouse 011 Esplanade reception
A view of the OYO Townhouse 011 Esplanade reception

No one can deny that when OYO Rooms launched in 2013, it was a watershed moment for the Indian&mdashand, it could be argued, even the world&mdashhospitality industry. At long last, India&rsquos heaving, and uneven, population of unbranded budget hotels and guesthouses were going to be standardised under a single umbrella while being able to tap into the larger market that the hotel aggregator would provide them access to. For the guest, the OYO tag would ensure that certain quality benchmarks would be adhered to. At a time when there was no guarantee that if you booked a budget hotel in India, you would get clean sheets or a decent bathroom&mdashor indeed have your booking honoured&mdashthis was nothing short of revolutionary.

Even more interesting was the story of its founder, Ritesh Agarwal, who wasn&rsquot even 20 at the time. He was also a college dropout, which made him eligible for the Thiel Fellowship and gave him an opportunity to develop OYO. Since the launch, OYO has diversified into a bunch of sub-brands. There&rsquos OYO Home, India&rsquos maiden home management system, for staycations SilverKey, executive stays that cater to the corporate traveller Palette Resorts for leisure vacations and Collection O, the newest category under OYO&rsquos hotel portfolio, for the discerning business traveller. Also new is OYO LIFE, targeted at millennials and young professionals in search of fully managed homes on long-term rentals, at affordable prices.

But the one I was really curious about was OYO Townhouse, the neighbourhood hotel for millennial travellers offering &lsquopremium economy&rsquo accommodations. Unlike OYO Rooms, Townhouses are managed by OYO itself. Launched in January 2017, there are already over a hundred of them across 16 cities. Since each Townhouse is unique and proudly hyper-local, I wasn&rsquot sure if the one I visited would be representative of the brand. So I tossed a coin, and settled on OYO Townhouse 011 Esplanade in Kolkata.

I landed at the Sudder Street establishment late in the evening, a magical time in a magical place. Kolkata&rsquos backpacker quarter was buzzing with activity, and seemed to have poshed up since I last visited. The smart Townhouse fit right into its &rsquohood.

Smart is a word you&rsquoll hear a lot at Townhouse. The guestbook in my room made liberal use of it. Townhouse, it seems, is built on six layers of innovation Smarter Rooms, Smarter Spaces, Smarter Menus, Smarter Buildings, Smarter Service and Smarter Locations. By &lsquoSmarter Rooms&rsquo, for instance, they mean accommodation that is &lsquoconfigured for maximum comfort and convenience, offering guests the comfort of a home, the utility of an office, and the fun of a mall.&rsquo

When I spoke to Ankit Tandon, Chief Operating Officer, Operated Business, OYO Hotels & Homes, he told me that OYO Townhouse is India&rsquos largest mid-market boutique hotel brand. He added &ldquoThe friendly neighbourhood hotel&rsquo, is a unique combination of a hotel, home, merchandise store and café.&rdquo Appropriately for a brand targeted at millennials&mdashand, let&rsquos not forget, created by one&mdashyou communicate with them mostly through an app.

Tandon makes it sound like a paradigm shift &ldquoOYO Townhouse breaks away from decades-old hotel industry templates, where new-age systems and services have replaced the older, wasteful conventions of the past. Every single element at OYO Townhouse&mdashfrom the breakfast menu to the booking process&mdashhas been re-engineered to deliver higher quality and better value...OYO engages with top quality engineers, designers, technical experts and leverages innovative technology to design and build visually appealing living spaces and offer the best customer experience.&rdquo My Townhouse room as well as the public spaces certainly looked upbeat, and were replete with refreshing design elements. A caricature next to the bed looked suspiciously like the founder.

The in-room dining menu offered an impressive range of choices. Usually, this is where hotels fleece you, but OYO&rsquos &nbsppricing was reasonable. And the laundry rates They were so good, had I known them earlier, I would have brought my dirty laundry from home and gotten it laundered here. No, really.

The room tariff too is a steal and the key differentiator, given the price-sen&shysitive band of the market it operates in. (Although, this seems to have earned the ire of at least some of their partners, ac&shycording to recent media reports.) Break&shyfast is included, but at this price point, don&rsquot expect a lavish gourmet spread.

Execution remains a challenge. For a self-operated property, the room should have been better maintained. It&rsquos early days though. With a valuation of $10 bil&shylion and a footprint in several countries and continents, this unicorn has just about growing up.

The hotel accomodates 29 rooms.

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