Sunday, February 14, 2010

Online dating in Thailand

'Slender figure, white-yellow skin and outgoing personality."

Thaimate.com stresses the importance of user security to minimise the risk of nasty surprises emerging offline later on. SAROT MEKSOPHAWANNAKUL

I clicked "enter" and waited for the man of my dreams to appear. Within a few hours, my inbox was filled with dozens of invitations - some polite and appealing, and others aggressively boorish.

Welcome to the world of online dating in the 21st century.

"Our system can find men or women matching your specifications. Just register and fill in what kind of people you are looking for - like handsome, tall, or even rich. A lot of profiles will pop up in a few minutes," said Torboon Puangmaha, CEO of Sanook Online, which operates the local online dating website Thaimate.com.

In addition to the photo upload option, which is key to attracting other members, the website provides a video clip browser.

A security system is also essential. The webmaster must closely observe and protect members' personal information, although the system can perform preliminary screening. All e-mails are sent directly to members' mailboxes. They can then respond through e-mail until they trust someone enough to give him or her a telephone number.

"You must take care of yourself especially when you are dating. The only thing we can do if you complain that you are harassed is to close that account and inform other members who are in contact with him or her about the issue," said Mr Torboon.

The online dating market in Thailand is still smaller than in other countries, he added. Thailand is estimated to have only about 12.6 million internet users, about 20% of the population. So the business has considerable room to grow.

A 31-year-old PR executive said it was difficult to meet new friends because she spends most of her time working and only sees the same people in her office.

"Online dating is a tool for me to find someone and see others without obstacles like distance or nationality. In the online dating world, I can be both chooser and chosen person. I have met many good people through the website," she said.

After she registered, the PR executive said a lot of e-mails were sent to her mailbox. "Nice to meet you" is the most popular way to start a conversation, she said.

For example, "Nice to meet you. I am a warm guy, funny and sincere. I'm looking for lovely women to chat with and share the future together. Is it possible to talk with you? Please respond to my e-mail. Have a nice day." Another message read, "Hello, my name is Ton. I'm a web engineer. I love eating out and sports. Do you like sports? Hope to talk with you soon." Another corespondent wrote love songs in his e-mail.

"I am a simple guy. I've been divorced for many years and stay alone. Chatting with people through online dating keeps me from loneliness. I just want someone to talk with. I choose people through profiles and pictures. If her appearance is okay, I will send her an e-mail to say hello. If she doesn't respond, I will look for others. That's it," said a male member of an online dating website.

Mr Torboon sees online dating as different from social networking.

"I think online dating is more serious than social networking but people can use both to know each other," he added.

More than 80% of online daters are aged from 20 to 40 years. Most men are seeking younger women. But women prefer middle-aged men because they believe these men will be ready to build a family and will be more able to take good care of them.

Mr Torboon said membership of the 11-year-old Thaimate.com now stands at 1.3 million, with an average of 30,000 visits per day. Thai online dating business has about five big local players and three or four foreign websites.

Ninety percent of Thaimate's revenue is from membership fees and just 10% from advertising, he added.

The business's main problem is that most Thais misunderstand and distrust online dating, he said. It will take time to educate people, although the number of Thais using online dating is rising fast. Thaimate's members are growing at a double-digit rate every year.

Apart from technology and systems, the key to the business is service and activities, said Mr Torboon.

"We have below-the-line campaigns every quarter such as speed dating and organise a group to make merit or give a donation together. We believe that activities will help attract people and build relationships between members and between members and us," he added.

Sanook Online is teaming up with Ripley's World of Entertainment Pattaya Limited to attempt to break the world speed dating record today in Pattaya. The record is currently held by Dating Cafe' GmbH in Germany, with 252 participants in November 2008.

About the autho

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