by Thu Huong Le
HA NOI — Nguyen Quynh Anh, a 25-year-old communications officer in Ha Noi, never thought she would find her spouse through the popular dating site noi.vn.
|Unattached young men and women attend a singles party in Ha Noi. Dating services are growing in popularity with busy professionals in the country's major cities. — File Photo
"At first I was just looking for friends but ended up meeting my husband through the offline events," she said.
Established in September 2008, noi.vn currently has over 700,000 members and claims that at least 200 couples have wedded after using its services.
In a country where dating has normally been governed by traditional guidelines, entrepreneurs have now established companies to serve the new wave of young professionals who have little time to find their romantic partners.
Le Quang Binh, director of the non-profit Institute for the Study of Society, Economy and Environment in Ha Noi, attributed the trend to the social tendency of people to "gravitate toward the most convenient option".
"Dating websites fill a niche in the market because people are busy and these services can meet their needs quickly," he said.
At least one-third of the country's 88 million people are online, with most internet browsers located in urban areas and aged 15 to 40, according to the Viet Nam Internet Network Information Centre. These statistics have prompted companies and businesses to grow online dating sites, throw offline dating events, organise speed dating events and even set up blind dates.
Most dating and matchmaking services are modelled after those in Japan, South Korea, mainland China and the US.
"There's a lot of interest among young city professionals in finding a reliable setting so they can meet new people and possibly find dates that meet their expectations," said Vu Nguyet Anh, director of Ericamoon Art and Life Company. Ericamoon offers singles' parties and "luxury connections", which match people based on the requirements and characteristics contained in applications they send to the company.
Nguyen Viet Ha, a 25-year-old university lecturer in Ha Noi, first heard about singles' parties being held in Ha Noi through friends. Prior to attending, she knew only that it was a gathering for single, young professionals and university students in the city.
"I didn't expect it could be that much fun," Ha said. "Most think the purpose is to look for your future partner but I think most people come there for a good chance to meet new friends."
Established in April 2011, Ericamoon has five staff members, 20 contributors, about 100 customers for its luxury connection services and hundreds of regular guests at its monthly single party. Viss.vn and noi.vn, two popular dating sites, have about 150,000 and 700,000 members respectively.
While people have become increasingly open to the idea of using matchmaking services, it's still not as popular in Viet Nam as in other Asian countries such as China and South Korea.
Most Vietnamese tend to be shy and cannot suppress the idea that using these services could mean they are "ill-equipped" to find "the one" on their own, Nguyet Anh said.
Music teacher Vu Thu Hien said she never considered using these services as dating should be strictly personal and must happen naturally.
In many cases, the company staff has to give a lot of small talks to persuade potential customers, according to Nguyet Anh.
But local companies understand they must also build trustworthy dating sites and services to avoid "the bad guys" who sign up for "the wrong reasons." Dam Van Cuong, who is in charge of running and developing noi.vn, said the site could track whether a registered nickname was created by a real person.
According to Cuong, the 700,000 members are divided into groups according to their location and hobbies. Each group is administered by a committee.
Noi.vn does not charge fees but noidocthan, which aims to make romantic connections, requires that its users be single, fill out a contract and pay a service charge for offline events and advice from professional dating counsellors.
"We believe that the social online dating culture will become more and more popular – at least in Viet Nam's major metropolitan areas – because the younger generations are more open-minded," Cuong said. "For some people, their networks to find romantic partners can be quite limited due to personal preferences and working conditions."
Most companies have tried to alter the concept of dating that is popular abroad to better suit Vietnamese youth. Do Kim Phuong, 25, began organising speed-dating events after a trainer from the US introduced it to her team at FPT Corporation in 2007.
Since then, she has been in charge of organising speed-dating events as part for the Ha Noi-based company Linktam Limited. Speed-dating allows singles to meet a large number of people in a short period of time. Participants have three to five minutes to impress each other.
For Vietnamese, three-to-five minutes is too short, so organisers have made each interval seven minutes long, in addition to adding ice-breaker games. The company receives about 200 applications to register for speed dating events per month and plans to offer professional matchmaking services this year.
"We noticed that in the past, we had more female applicants signing up for speed dating events, but now the female-male ratio has balanced out," Phuong said. "It's definitely getting more popular."
Despite the changing perception, Phuong admitted it would take time before dating and matchmaking services in Viet Nam could reach the level of popularity they enjoyed in other Asian countries.
Yet the market has potential, Nguyet Anh of Ericamoon said, and she finds the work rewarding. "I believe an increasingly number of young people will continue needing these services because, as we know, many of them do feel lonelier in a busier society," she said. — VNS