CARACAS, Venezuela— Things heat up when a couple bikini-clad models start offering free lap dances to anyone who will sit on their couch.
Across the room, a curvy brunette wearing only body paint hands out free chocolate-vodka cocktails to folks who can sink three out of five free throws on a basketball hoop.
Welcome to the Caracas Sex Expo, which was co-sponsored by Tumotelito, a new app that helps couples find hour-rate motel rooms for sex. These love palaces, which are big business in Latin America, often include services like pornographic films, pole dancing stages, specially built "love seats," and rounded beds with mirrors on the ceiling—just in case you forget what you came in for.
Sex motels come in all shapes, sizes and budgets. They're used as private retreats by teens and young adults who still live with their parents, but they also pull a lot of business from married clients who are looking to sneak away for a steamy, extramarital affair.
Even though sex motels are everywhere, it's not always easy to find an available room when you're new to a city, or on a busy weekend night. And when you're in the mood, the last thing you want to do is drive around town looking for a room in the inn.
That's where Tumotelito and several other apps come into the equation. They're trying to get clients to sex faster by using interactive directories to find vacancies in local motels. Think of them as a sexy version of booking.com.
“It can be disappointing to arrive somewhere in the middle of the night and find out that all rooms are booked,” says Diego Calvo, the creator of the Tumotelito app. “We want to make it easier for adults to find places where they can have consensual sex.”
Calvo's app, whose logo is a keyhole topped by devil horns, was developed for the Venezuelan market and shows users nearby motels based on their current location. It ranks the motel rooms, shows room rates, and even has pictures of the rooms so users can pick what type of ambiance they're in the mood for.
One of the rooms listed on the app is this presidential suite at the Dallas Motel in Caracas, available for just $8 for a six-hour romp.
There's also this luxurious room featuring a stationary motorcycle at the California Suites Motel in Caracas. (vrooom vrooom)
Calvo says the plan is to eventually charge motels a commission for reservations made through his app, like other booking sites do.
It's not earth-shattering technology, but it could revolutionize the way people have sex in Latin America by streamlining the process of going from the barroom to the bedroom. The easier and less embarrassing it becomes for folks to slip in and out of a motel room, the more likely a "maybe" becomes "yes."
Calvo, 31, is hoping to take his app to several other countries in Latin America, and says he recently secured a $100,000 investment to expand into Colombia.
“We're starting out in Venezuela, because you can afford to make mistakes here,” Calvo tells me. The economic crisis and steep devaluation of Venezuela's currency means that experienced software developers can be hired for around $700 a month, a bargain compared to what you'd have to spend in stronger economies.
“Once we perfect our system here, we will expand,” says Calvo, who also runs a spa in Miami.
But Tumotelito will probably face stiff competition as it tries to take over the region.
In Chile, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina and Brazil, software developers have already come up with apps that make it easier for people to find and book motel rooms for a roll in the sheets.
In Chile, an app called Motel Now already lists motels in 20 cities and allows users to book rooms with the touch of a button. The app, which has been available to the public for three years, has been downloaded 300,000 times. Its developers are also contemplating international expansion.
“The market for this is not as big as for something like Uber,” says Jose Miguel Hurtado, developer of Motel Now. “But this can still be a big business if you manage to position yourself as the premier brand in the region.”
In Mexico, the discretely named Codigo69 app also helps people to find motels in the capital, as well as in some cities in Veracruz state. The app even shows a list of sexual positions that you can try with your partner once you've found your room. But Codigo69 doesn't have a booking feature yet.
“Creating a reservations system is one of the toughest part of this job because you need to create a platform that motel owners regularly update,” says Cristian Rodriguez a systems engineering student in Bogota.
Rodriguez and one of his classmates developed their own motel directory app this year called Motelo. It already lists 500 properties throughout Colombia. “We are expecting this to get quite competitive,” Rodriguez said.
To stand out from the crowd and get more users, these motel apps will have to invest heavily in publicity. Hurtado, the Chilean developer, says he's investing money in radio ads and PR events to get more people to download Motel Now.
Calvo, meanwhile, is sending Venezuelan models dressed in red bikinis to Caracas nightclubs to distribute publicity for TuMotelito. He calls the models his “little devils” and has them pose suggestively in local motel rooms for pictures featured on his app. “We want to find new ways to lure people,” Calvo said.
As the developers race to improve and expand their motel directories, customers are already rating them on sites like Google Store. While there are several complaints about technical glitches —room pictures are not always available, apps sometimes freeze— there seems to be consensus that these mobile directories are providing a useful service.
“I congratulate the guy who took the time to do this,” wrote Motel Now user Sebastian Sanhueza on Google Store.
“It saved my Friday night,” added Adrian Rodriguez, a recent user of the Motelo App.
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.