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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Year-end gatherings in full swing, surpassing pre-pandemic levels

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The Korean American community in Los Angeles is witnessing a surge in year-end gatherings this year, exceeding levels seen before the pandemic. These gatherings, starting in late November and continuing throughout December, are spread across Koreatown.

Major restaurants, hotels, and banquet halls in LA’s Koreatown are being booked for these events by various Korean American organizations, alumni associations, and businesses.

However, the year-long hotel workers’ strike and protests, coupled with inflation across all sectors, have led to a significant increase in the cost of hosting such events, leaving some organizations feeling the pinch.

As of November 22, Hong Yeon, a Chinese restaurant inside the Rotex Hotel, reported a 50 percent increase in reservations compared to last year. “Last year, it felt like we hadn’t fully recovered from the pandemic, but this year is definitely different,” said Jasmine Song, manager of the restaurant. She added, “We’ve seen more bookings for private gatherings like birthdays and 70th and 60th celebrations, as well as more families dining out during the Thanksgiving holiday.”

The hotel industry is also experiencing a spike in inquiries for year-end events.

Hee-seung Chang, Banquet Manager at Garden Suite Hotel, shared, “We’ve been getting a lot of inquiries for the holiday season. So far, we’re back to about 70 percent of pre-pandemic bookings.”

Jason Kim, General Manager of Oxford Palace Hotel, observed, “This year, we have received about 20% more inquiries for reservations than last year. Since the pandemic has eased, more groups are having year-end gatherings, and the number of people per group has also increased.”

In light of this trend, the Korea University Alumni Association of Southern California, hosting a year-end gathering on December 1, expects to double its attendance from 100 last year to 200 this year.

“This year, we are anticipating alumni from Northern California and a wide range of classes, from 1958 to 2021, to join us,” said the president of the alumni association. “We have been running more programs than before the pandemic and are thrilled that our year-end gathering is poised for success.”

Despite the enthusiasm, the high costs of such events have drawn criticism. Traditionally held at hotels in Koreatown, KAFLA’s year-end event this year will be at Koreatown Plaza (KTP) terrace due to increased expenses.

Jeff Lee, Deputy Executive Director of KAFLA, explained, “Our 61st anniversary and year-end event, ‘Heritage Night,’ will be at KTP on December 7. We shifted venues as hotel costs were 2-3 times higher.”

Indeed, some hotels have reportedly increased meal costs from around $100 per person to $220. “The rise in prices due to staff protests and inflation is understandable, but it’s excessively high for a single event,” said Lee.

A hotel official noted, “Some guests have shifted their year-end gatherings to other venues due to rising costs. We strive to maintain prices for our regular customers, but it’s challenging given the substantial increase in operating costs.”

By SUAH JANG, YEJIN KIM, JUNHAN PARK    [jang.suah@koreadaily.com]