In the time of Tinder, when your next date might be just a “swipe” away, a surprising number of Hongkongers are still forking out to go on speed dates – organised social events where participants have a succession of one-on-one conversations with potential partners in a limited amount of time.
A growing gender imbalance in city means single women here are increasingly willing to spend money on the search for a special someone – potentially big business for matchmakers, who say the scene is now attracting more well-educated clients.
These clients are bringing their higher spending power to bear in their pursuit of commitment and marriage rather than just a romantic dinner or a one-night stand.
Speed daters prefer paying for “quality control” rather than trusting the profiles strangers post online. Hence, matchmakers conduct background checks on participants and screen out potential cheaters.
“I prefer conversations in real life,” said Wendy So Shun-man, 23, who used Tinder for some time before giving it up. “Dating apps are rather superficial, people on the apps swipe based on looks, and it seems like the apps are for them to kill time rather than building a relationship.”
She met her current boyfriend at a speed dating event.
Mary, 31, a frequent speed dater who spoke on condition that she could use a pseudonym, said she preferred such events over dating apps.
“As a woman in her 30s, I really can’t be bothered texting back and forth over the phone. I am looking for a serious relationship.”
While she tried apps and dating websites a few years ago, Mary ditched the virtual approach after running into several men who lied about the fact that they already had a girlfriend.
“I think, if a person is willing to make an effort to sign up, show up and dress up, the whole thing seems to be less casual and more serious to me,” said Mary, who is still single.
In Hong Kong, the gender ratio has become increasingly skewed, with only 852 males per 1,000 females, compared with 911 to 1,000 a decade ago.
According to data from the latest census report, men usually marry for the first time at the age of 31, while they used to do so at 29 in 1991. Women have seen the age of marriage pushed to 29 from 26 over the same 25-year period.
The city has seen a decline in fertility rates over the past 33 years, according to a census report released in 2015. In 2014, only 62,305 babies were born in Hong Kong, compared to 86,751 births in 1981.
Dawoon Kang, founder of dating app Coffee Meets Bagel, said she believed traditional matchmakers would eventually be pushed out of the market because the process is “slow, time consuming and expensive”, while her app can do a “better, faster and cheaper” job of finding users a match.
“Hong Kong is an extremely fast-paced city where people are always on the go,” Kang said. “In this busy environment, efficiency and convenience are really important.”
But Wong Ka-yu, co-founder of dating agency HK Romance Dating, disagreed. She said her business, which organises speed dating events and provides one-on-one dating services, had grown steadily over the past few years.
Bookings for a series of speed dating events on Valentine’s Day this coming Wednesday are “20 per cent more than what I expected”, she said.
The company’s one-on-one dating service usually takes three weeks to two months to find clients a match. Wong said the time was mainly spent weeding out cheaters. The procedure includes a review of each member’s identity card, academic certificates and proof of income.
When setting up a profile for a one-on-one date, clients are first interviewed by a consultant to learn about their requirements, goals and interests. A consultation will then be set up for image guidance and to go over recommendations.
If a match is found, Wong books a table at suitable restaurant for the date.
Clients are required to pay a dating charge, although the company’s website does not state the exact amount. Its recent speed dating events, which are separate from the one-on-one services, cost between HK$350 and HK$450 a person.
Matchmaking company Lunch Actually founder Violet Lim said the rise of dating apps had helped her offline services grow, as people were now more open to using dating services.
“From our experience with offline matchmaking over the past 13 plus years, we have learned that quantity does not always equal quality,” she said. “It’s the paradox of choice – when we have too many options, we do not know who to choose, or who to focus on.”