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Twin sisters from Fujian province and twin brothers from Henan province dance during a blind date organized at a scenic spot in Henan's Yuxi Canyon in May. Zhao Peng / Xinhua
After years of blind dates, speed dating and failed matchmaking attempts by family and friends, Wang Jing says she has finally found her Mr Right.
She met him on a two-day "dating tour" for singles in Guangzhou, Guangdong province.
"Unlike usual blind dates, the tour gave us more time to get to know each other," the 25-year-old marketing manager said."When he stopped to hold my hand and help me cross a river during the trip, my heart beat faster."
Dating tours - excursions that offer a chance for romance - are growing in popularity among China's legion of unmarried and overworked office employees.
Matchmaking agencies and online travel firms already offer a range of packages, lasting from a day up to a week.
Judging by an ongoing online poll by Sohu, a popular news website, and Traveler magazine, there is no shortage of demand. More than half of respondents so far said they would consider going on a dating tour.
"Traveling as a way of dating is easier for us singles, as it allows us to stay natural and relaxed," Yu Weiliang, 35, a Shanghai marketing manager who recently went on a tour, told China Daily. "Over several days we can at least become good friends, even if we don't begin a relationship."
Qianyuan, a matchmaking website based in Beijing, runs one-day trips for up to 70 people to attractions in the capital's rural suburbs. Activities include games specially designed to break the ice.
According to Han Guang, a tour guide for three years, the boom in demand has resulted in the frequency of the trips rising this year from once a month to weekly.
Other companies are witnessing similar trends.
Ctrip, a major online travel agency, this year organized tours to ancient towns and mountains near Shanghai for Qixi, often referred to as Chinese Valentine's Day, on Aug 23. Participants had to be single and aged 18 to 32.
"The project was so popular, far beyond our expectations," said Peng Liang, a public relations manager at Ctrip. "We immediately planned similar projects for Mid-Autumn Festival and the Golden Week holiday in Xiamen."
Zhenai, a matchmaking website with 45 million members, runs dating tours for 20 to 30 people at a time. Chief Executive Li Song credited the relaxed nature of the trips as contributing to their rising popularity.
"Far away from the fast pace of city life, and closer to nature, I think single men and women find it easier to open their hearts and find love," he said.
Trouble in paradise?
Although dating tours have been getting the thumbs-up from young people, organizers admit there are problems, such as the imbalance in the male-female ratio and verification of personal information.
"The number of women (on the tours) is usually more than double that of men," said Peng at Ctrip. "It's hard for us to refuse our female clients."
Qianyuan tour guide Han said he had the same issue.
"I think it's because women have less economic pressure to prepare for a marriage," Han said.
Chen Ye, 24, said she is interested in going on a blind date tour, but raised some concerns about security.
"I'd only choose one organized by a matchmaking website," said the accountant from Shanghai. Chen said she was interested in Jiayuan, a popular online dating service that limits numbers to 20 and allows members to review personal profiles of other participants before a tour.
"Having that kind of transparency helps assure me that the trip will be safe," she said.
Websites such as Zhenai usually have verification systems and members are required to register with detailed information, such as their residency permits and ID numbers.
However, Ctrip and other online travel agencies often have difficulty verifying private information from clients.
"As a company providing travel services, we have no right to inquire into the privacy of our clients," Peng said. "But we still guarantee a professional level of service."