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July 11, 2014

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Holidays to find perfect partner, on land, sea and air

SHIPBOARD romance is the stuff of novels and movies. Think of Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr falling in love mid-Atlantic in the 1957 classic film “An Affair to Remember.”

But is love on the high seas — or for that matter, on any holiday excursion — just the stuff of fiction?

Tour companies in China hope not.

Matchmaking cruises, flights and overland excursions have become the new trend in travel promotion. They are primarily aimed at the growing number of young singles who are finding it tough to meet a suitable mate.

Trips spiced with the bait of finding true love can be anything from weekend countryside excursions to cruises to special “matchmaking flights.”

Online travel agency Ctrip and online matchmaking website are taking bookings for a five-day “blind date” cruise from Shanghai to South Korea next month. Up to 100 singles will be accepted — making it Shanghai’s biggest tourism matchmaking trip to date.

The cruise will include events like a swimming pool party, speed dating, a masked ball and a pajama party. There will be no Internet connection or mobile phone signal on board to distract passengers from romantic pursuits.

The new matchmaking trend in tourism is drawing mixed reactions.

Zheng Qijun, a 25-year-old clerk, said she went on a matchmaking outing to the scenic Sheshan Hill in Songjiang District late last year.

"It was a pleasant trip overall because the atmosphere was good, but I didn’t meet my Mr Right,” said Zheng.

Lily Chen, 30, a trading company worker, said she wouldn’t be caught dead on a matchmaking trip.

“The idea is new and probably fun,” said Chen, “but I would feel very embarrassed being for such a long time among strangers under such an obvious guise.”

Indeed, that’s one problem with matchmaking trips. They lock participants into a situation that is hard to escape easily if things don’t go well.

“How can organizers ensure that none of the participants is just a slick Romeo seeking a quick affair?” asked Teng Xiaole, an education institute worker who herself has dabbled in matchmaking by organizing events like hikes and lectures for singles she knows.

Organizers said 43 people have already booked for its “blind date” cruise to South Korea, two-thirds of them 30 years or older. The ratio of men to women is about even. Discounts are being offered to coax more people to the trip.

It is the first matchmaking cruise organized by the tourism operator, which says a ship offers the backdrop of glamour, adventure and intimacy, while providing the perfect milieu to mount entertainment activities conducive to meeting new people and pulling introverts out of their shells.

“A cruise provides more time to get to know people, and I hope to find my future partner on the trip,” said a participant surnamed Liu.

Will this marriage of holiday travel and matchmaking catch on?

Liu Deyan, associate professor of the Tourism Institute of Shanghai Normal University, said a lack of social channels tends to create frustrations among singles, especially those under pressure from parents. Matchmaking trips might offer a better environment to meet new people, she said.

Sun Yunlong, associate professor of tourism at Fudan University, said matchmaking trips can widen opportunities and could become a booming market, but added that there must be safeguards.

A group of strangers coming together on a trip needs the security of knowing that improper behavior won’t occur. Legal guarantees are required, he said.

The trend is so new that many details remain to be worked out, Sun added.

Taking the trend to the skies, Shanghai-based Spring Airlines has begun matchmaking flights between China’s mainland and Taiwan.

The first flight from Shanghai to Taipei in January attracted about 80 people, 70 of them women — not the best ratio for matchmaking.

On a subsequent trip in March, 16 singles from cities such as Shanghai, Kunshan, Shijiazhuang and Shenzhen took the flight. Some Taiwanese also participated. On board, single men were invited to introduce themselves, and females told to turn off their overhead lights if they weren’t interested.

Spring Airlines said eight passengers had met people they would continue seeing. The airline is now considering longer, overseas matchmaking trips.


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