Flicking through a long list of potential matches on her phone’s OkCupid app and chuckling at a few messages, Cassandra, 32, who wished her full name not be used, said this platform had been the source of her latest dating adventures, as dating sites in Hong Kong thrive, she said:
“People use them because they are good tools to expand their social circle, like if they just moved to a new city or don’t really meet new people easily—or if they are more comfortable interacting with people electronically.”
Online dating is catching on in Hong Kong, and the dating sites say the city’s heavy mobile usage works to their advantage. But the more conservative dating culture in Asia is a challenge that may also help spur business, because even though many singles seeking a long-term relationship here are reluctant to date numerous people, users and service providers say, some of that inhibition may go away by having the dates set up over keyboards.
Brett Harding, a co-founder of Lovestruck.com, a London-based online dating site with a growing presence in Hong Kong, said:
“A dating site forcibly brings two parties together, so it can almost replace that nervousness of talking to each other. That’s why it works so well out in Asia.
“I think Asians, dating and mobile go hand in hand. They’re like the perfect triumvirate. Everything’s heading toward mobile, it’s exploding. So we’re actually seeing it grow even more in our Hong Kong, Singapore sites than possibly in Europe.”
Despite its modernity, Hong Kong’s cultural urgency for people to get married in a timely manner holds strong, even recently spawning a popular reality show that followed a few women, mostly in their 30s, on their quest to find a mate.
In Singapore, it isn’t just parents who hope their children would get married before 30, which is something of a target age throughout developed Asian countries; the low birth rate there is considered a crisis, which has the government pushing for more dating and sponsoring homegrown online dating companies.
Lovestruck’s Hong Kong member base has grown 40 percent each year since it began marketing efforts in the city around 2009, and the company says it hopes to double or triple its number of users in about a year.
The site has stuck with an English-language platform, but other services that originate in Western countries, including Match.com and HongKongCupid.com (run by Australian-based Cupid Media), have launched Chinese versions.
Asia seems to be just getting over the stigma of online dating that once surrounded the industry even in the West, and sites are trying to meet this change, says Samir El-Alami, the director of online marketing at Lovestruck. But he says deep-seated cultural norms about relationships are proving a greater hurdle for dating sites.
But Lovestruck, which organizes offline social gatherings too, has taken measures to adapt to the shyness here by hiring people tasked with breaking the ice and introducing singles to each other at the events, Harding added:
“We’re embracing the culture there. We’re understanding that they’re not potentially as outgoing as our London member base.”
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