Baku hotels require a marriage certificate from guests - not by law but by choice
Many Baku hotels require a marriage certificate if a man and a woman want to share a room. However, this is a private policy and does not in any way relate to Azerbaijan’s legislation. Hotel owners explain this by the fact that they position the hotels as a ‘family hotel’. We talked with receptionists at various Baku hotels to find out how the ban on extramarital sex works in this business.
“The World of Rich People”
The first thing we found out was that there is no such ban in expensive and prestigious hotels. The cost of a room ranges from 150 to 400 dollars per night.
“There is no ban on ‘non-family’ couples in luxury hotels, it is prohibited by the brand. In such cases clients of our hotel network can apply to the court and they will win it. The rule applies to both locals and foreigners. [We] Can only scan the passport of the guest for security reasons.”
“In expensive hotels, if a woman visits you and you are already registered in the room, they will just scan her passport and then escort her to your room. They will however clarify at first whether or not you are expecting someone. And if you were already accompanied a woman, you would not be asked anything.”
Everything for tourists
Former employees of inexpensive hotels (from USD 20 to USD 40 per night) told us that for the vast majority of hotels a marriage certificate is really a firm rule when giving a room to a couple. However, this rule does not always apply to tourists. The stories of our respondents often feature ‘Arabs’ – tourists from Arab countries – for which Azerbaijan had simplified the visa regime in 2016.
“The local people were not allowed in, and I, having worked at reception, had to explain that this was required by management. Though Arabs with women were allowed. It was not like this from the very beginning, honestly speaking, but then the manager realized that they could make super profits from it. The women were sometimes very young, and mostly from provincial areas.”
“The local people were not allowed, as the management feared a fine. It has to be noted that we are speaking only about managers who ‘did not have a roof’ and thus were afraid of a penalty. [‘did not have a roof’ implies being under the patronage of a power-holder, often of a person from law enforcement or the government -ed] And when I did not let the local people in, they usually did not argue with me, but instead tried to get me on the phone. They wanted explanations, arguing that it is not prohibited by law. I did not answer them and would just hang up the phone.”
Citizens of Azerbaijan are not the only ones discriminated against – tourists also complain that a man and a woman who arrive for a vacation could be running in circles throughout the city for hours in search of a hotel where they would not be required to present a marriage certificate.
As it turns out from the receptionist’s stories, the corporate culture of Baku’s hotels all consists of paradoxes.
On the one hand, the hotels are trying to create the image of a ‘family place’, demonstratively refusing to tolerate extramarital sex. Nobody has the right to prevent it, because the service provider has the right to refuse service to any client in a private business.
On the other hand, in many hotels tourists are allowed things that are deeply taboo in the Azerbaijani mentality – for example, sex workers of either sex can come to them. One of the respondents told us about a charming girl who presented a man’s passport (apparently her own) at the reception, and asked them not to say anything to the Arab who she was ‘visiting’.
The motives for the ‘strictness’ towards Azerbaijani citizens are also not fully clear as the decision to give rooms only to married couples is usually explained as ‘fear of the police’. Hotel owners say they are afraid of raids, which are performed by the police from time to time to identify brothels.
“In small hotels the policy is set by the owner of the hotel. Some do not allow couples because they are afraid of police raids and of being accused of running a brothel.”
“The manager explained that she did not allow registering [couples] without a marriage certificate for fear that the police might accuse her of human trafficking and ask for a bribe.”
Sometimes these fears reach the point of absurdity:
“They say sometimes a couple comes to the hotel, and then it turns out that they are in fact whistle-blowers, then the girl files an action with the police that she was raped and the hotel owner is accused of complicity.”
It is not clear however where the fear of being blackmailed vanishes when it comes to Arabs and super profits. Here is what a former employee of one of the hotels says: “Only with a certificate.”
“I knew a prostitute who I sometimes called for the Arabs. I took 20 manats, my share from her [USD 10], and another 20 from the Arabs for finding a girl for them.”
Summing up everything that we have heard from hotel employees, we can draw the following conclusion: The hotel owners, who receive a share from sex workers coming to the hotels, are afraid of police raids. Hotel owners who earn their money honestly are afraid to ‘get under the hood’ during such round-ups, and they doubt having the opportunity to prove their innocence fearing blackmail from the police.
Since the raids are usually preceded by a frontman showing up in the hotel, and it is unlikely to be a foreigner, Azerbaijani citizens are prohibited from sex in hotels, out of harm’s way (sometimes foreigners too). Apparently, this is the only way for hotel owners to avoid being charged with running a brothel.