In Chinese mythology, marriage god Yue Lao (‘old man under the moon’) played cupid by uniting predestined couples with a silken cord. Now, in modern times, one can’t just bank on such divine intervention. To find a partner, one has to turn to professional matchmakers.
In Hong Kong, there are two major reasons why finding better halves is not so easy.
The first thing is demographics. One million out of 3.42 million women aged 15 and above are unmarried, outnumbering males in the same age bracket by 30,000. For every 1,000 females in the territory, there are just 876 males, according to 2011 Population Census.
The belief still running deep among locals is that if a woman is past 30, she doesn’t have much bargaining power. Spinsters in their 30s are under mounting parental pressure to get married and many of them turn to matchmaking service providers.
Another reason is about time and work. Hong Kong is known for long working hours and many singles do not have adequate spare time to get to know people from the opposite sex. This, in turn, leads to a situation where many lack basic experience and tips to socialize and communicate effectively to develop a relationship.
All these point to the ample business opportunities for dating agencies.
Hong Kong Economic Journal Monthly reports that currently there are altogether 60 matchmaking firms in Hong Kong offering with tailor-made services ranging from express dating for a whirlwind romance, to online matching and one-on-one VIP counseling.
The baseline charges of some bespoke services can be well over HK$10,000 (US$1,290). The matchmaking agents can work like executive search firms to find suitable candidates based on the customer’s requirements.
Meiling Ng Liu, managing director of Hong Kong Matchmakers, told HKEJ Monthly that to qualify for the firm’s one-on-one VIP services, male customers must have an annual income of no less than HK$700,000 and that the threshold for females is HK$500,000. The firm also runs an online dating platform called “Meiling Circle” for mid-income customers. One-year membership costs HK$12,000.
Registered members can chat to others of the opposite sex and attend events and gatherings like parties on yachts organized by the firm for members to get to know each other — fees for these events are charged separately of course. Special training programs about dress code and social skills are also available.
One of the major concerns about the third-party matchmaking services is privacy and accuracy of the personal information provided. Meiling notes that her firm has stringent procedures to verify all the information and that it calls the applicants for an interview when necessary.
Recently Hong Kong Matchmakers made news with its Melbourne house-racing tours for its VIP customers, offering customers a chance to mingle during the trip. The price tag comes at HK$10,000, excluding air tickets, accommodation and catering in the Australian city.
Online matchmaking is also getting popular.
Some are still skeptical but a recent study by University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo finds that couples who meet via online dating can lead a happier life together than those who meet through traditional means. This can be good news for developers and operators of dating apps.
One edge that these free-to-use apps have is that users can first browse photos and personal information of others and decide whether to chat with them. That will help avoid embarrassing situations such as meeting a stranger and finding that one has nothing in common to talk about.
An app called iAround, developed by a Guangzhou-based IT firm, has been popular among singles on the mainland. It is said to generate monthly sales of over 10 million yuan (US$1.63 million) as users purchase virtual props and gifts during chats with others. The app also commands a growing user base in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Overseas apps like Skout, Tinder and Lovestruck are also popular in Hong Kong.
Vivian Xue from Hong Kong Economic Journal Monthly contributed to this story.
China’s marrying types: If you can’t mix, you can’t match
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