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Digital Life

Pink Dollar app promotes gay-friendly businesses

After being discriminated against in Hong Kong, British entrepreneur Paul Ramscar created a directory of gay-friendly businesses and made it available to people's smart phones. It's already seen international success.

DW: Why do you think that an app is the best way to fight discrimination against gays in Hong Kong?

Paul Ramscar: I've actually experienced discrimination myself in Hong Kong a couple of years ago when I've been into shops. And [being] from the UK, I am not used to being discriminated against when I'm with my partner. That gave me an idea as to how to link up businesses with the gay community in Hong Kong.

What kind of response have you had from the community?

The response has been very good. We are all trying to get as many businesses on the app as possible. And notably, we've got Barclays. They are our largest corporate business on the app, but Barclays is very forward in LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] rights and getting LGBT on the agenda for discussion again in Hong Kong. I don't want to add thousands and thousands of businesses - I want to keep it quite tight. We have a screening processing, and I meet all the business owners one-on-one. I screen them myself. I check their products, I check whether they've dealt with gay customers in the past, and then we add them to the app.

How many people have downloaded or are using the app?

We are just keeping it as an internal figure at the moment but the response has been pretty big to be honest with you, and not just in Hong Kong. We've had downloads as far away as Russia. We've had downloads in the US, in the UK, Singapore, Taiwan - we've had downloads from many places all over the world. I think the reason is that we've had a lot of media coverage and the gay community, gays across the world are interested to know what the Pink Dollar app is and how it works.

Paul Ramscar
Photo: PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/GettyImages

Ramscar said he wanted to create a directory of LGBT-friendly businesses

What do you think is holding people back from rating the different places that you have made available?

I think a lot of them are just sitting and waiting for what's going happen. We are sending out notifications. We are just starting with our m-coupons, which we are issuing from different businesses. Then members can go and get 15 percent off a meal at a restaurant or 10 percent off a spa treatment.

You know, the review and ratings are not representative of the number of downloads, which we've had and the amount of time members are spending on the app. I looked at some stats last week and I was quite surprised to note that members are actually on there on average for the last couple of weeks for around 14 minutes. The ratings and the reviews are not denying the actual number of downloads.

There's always a risk with online rating systems that people are not always honest about who they are and why they are doing it. What kind of measures do you have in place to maybe avoid that?

We have a couple of very negative reviews, which we know are just couple of people who have an axe to grind with a couple of the businesses and, as with anything, any online system is open to abuse. We are very independent on this. And we are not rating any businesses ourselves, we want the members to go and rate those businesses and review those businesses. I agree that any online system could be open to abuse but we're keeping a close eye on things to ensure that doesn't happen.

Do you think that this app or similar apps could be used elsewhere?

I think the problem you would say in the UK and in the US, the market in terms of the gay community, is that it's very mature there. If you look at London, I don't think the app may work as well there because I'm sure there's discrimination, there's still bullying and things happening in the UK but not so much in London. I think the app is really more unique to this part of the world at the moment. But there's potential that we could invite businesses to come on board from a corporate social responsibility point of view. And to support something for the bigger global cause if you like - that is for equality. 

The Pink Dollar app, launched in October for Apple devices, became available on Android devices in December.

Interview: Chiponda Chimbelu

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