With the prospect of going out on dates scuppered due to the circuit breaker measures, Mr Kishen Ravindaran was happy to turn to video conferencing and have his first virtual date last month.
"The date was pretty fun," says the 28-year-old, who works in the aviation industry.
Conducted on a high-quality video-conferencing platform and with the dating agency he uses – Kopi Date – helping to smooth out conversation kinks with a “starter kit”, he ended up chatting with his date for four hours.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak, many dating agencies have had to arrange virtual dates in place of outings to cafes or restaurants.
Singles are warming up to the idea as well. Popular United States-based mobile dating app Bumble, for instance, saw a 56 per cent increase in video calls from March to last month among its users from around the world.
Home-grown Kopi Date and Lunch Actually are among the dating agencies that have turned to virtual dating.
Kopi Date, founded in July last year, is tapping video-conferencing platform Whereby, which allows custom branding within the chatroom so that the dating agency's video dates are held in a Kopi Date-themed chat window.
It has branded its virtual dating service Date From Home.
Kopi Dates co-founder Lee Jing Lin says: "We spent quite some time trying out multiple video-call programs in search of a platform that could come as close to our signature Kopi Date experience as possible, before finally deciding on one because of its user-friendly, yet beautifully minimalist interface."
She says that since moving to video conferencing for its dating sessions, Kopi Date - which has more than 1,000 users - has seen a 30 per cent increase in the number of users who want to go on more virtual dates.
She adds that there has been no decline in sign-ups due to the Covid-19 outbreak as the agency has been accepting sign-ups for offline dates in advance.
As for Kopi Date's starter kit, it is a physical pack sent to participants after they have been matched with their dates. The kit includes interesting facts about the other person; ice-breaker suggestions; technical tips about having a working microphone, camera, lighting and Wi-Fi; and a drip coffee or tea pack.
Kopi Date had plans for a mass Valentine's Day date for its clients in February, but shelved them for a virtual event due to government advisories against mass gatherings. "After that, the circuit breaker began and so we officially rolled out virtual dates and put our regular offline dates on pause," says Ms Lee.
Singapore's circuit breaker period began on April 7. It was to last till May 5, but has been extended to June 1. Meet-ups are not allowed even after June 1.
Zoom dates, virtual consultations
At Lunch Actually, its virtual dates are held via video-conferencing platform Zoom.
Ms Violet Lim, chief executive and co-founder of Lunch Actually, says: "We've been using Zoom because it's easy to use and relatively secure now due to the use of locked rooms and passwords. There is no need for both sides to reveal their e-mail or contact details as well because they need only the link to join the room."
The dating agency first introduced virtual dates as an option for its members when Singapore raised its Disease Outbreak Response System Condition level to orange on Feb 7. Since the circuit breaker started, all of its dating arrangements have been virtual.
"Our dating consultant will arrange and coordinate all the details, introduce both parties in the Zoom room and then leave them to get to know each other," Ms Lim says.
Lunch Actually - which was founded here in 2004 and has offices in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Thailand - advises its clients to spend at least 15 minutes with each other on their virtual dates. It says the shortest virtual date was 20 minutes, while the longest was four hours. The average is an hour.
Last month, it saw a doubling of virtual dates from March, though it said in an e-mail interview that there has been a 30 per cent decline in sign-ups over the same period.
Consultations have also been switched to the virtual realm.
The dating agency has been holding live webinars, where participants can interact with a panel of consultants via Zoom.
One such webinar last month covered dating strategies for shy singles and doled out tips on how to best present oneself virtually.
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This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.