KCON LA, one of the biggest Korean cultural festivals in the world, was held in Los Angeles from August 10th to 12th of this year. CJ ENM, a Korean entertainment and retail company, organizes about four KCONs every year to introduce Korean culture to global audiences. Many famous K-Pop groups, such as TWICE and WANNA ONE, visited Los Angeles and performed at the festival. KCON also encompasses other aspects of Korean culture such as TV dramas, food, and the beauty industry. KCON 2018 in LA provided more than 100 programs including dance workshops, K-Beauty stations, and Korean food trucks so that Hallyu, or Korean Wave, fans can experience Korean culture.
About 94,000 people attended KCON 2018 in LA over three days. Combined with 53,000 people who enjoyed KCON in NY earlier in the year, the total grew from the last year’s number of 128,000 to 147,000. KCON began in 2012 at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Irvine, California, attracting 10,000 visitors. Three years after being launched, KCON became a huge multi-day festival hosted annually in Los Angeles and New York City. KCON is regarded as not only a cultural event but also a platform for Korean enterprises to expand their business in the United States. About 200 Korean companies, such as AMOREPACIFIC and LG, participated in KCON LA 2018 and introduced their products to the US public. Thanks to Hallyu and the increasing popularity of Korean products, this festival is expected to contribute to economic growth in Los Angeles and Korea.
CJ ENM predicted KCON would bring in about $20 million in total, with 93% of visitors coming from other cities. Tourism like this is an especially important component of the LA economy. In the 10 congressional districts of Los Angeles in 2016, travel and airfares from Asia contributed almost $3.9 billion to the economy, with billions more from domestic passengers. Americans’ enduring interest in Korean culture makes KCON a valuable opportunity to support both domestic and foreign tourism, while Los Angeles’s Korean American population of 110,000, the largest of any US city, makes the city a natural site for KCON.
Even before KCON, Los Angeles and Korea supported each other through various exchanges, such as a head of state visit to Los Angeles in 2013 to promote information technology investment. More recently, current LA mayor Eric Garcetti visited Seoul as part of a tour of Asia, where he and Seoul mayor Park Won-soon pledged to promote tourism between the two cities. Seoul and Los Angeles are connected by geography as well, sharing a sister river agreement between the Los Angeles River and the Cheonggyecheon River. Seoul’s successful revitalization of the formerly covered and polluted Cheonggyecheon River served as the inspiration for a large-scale revitalization project of the Los Angeles River, which Los Angeles hopes will bring similar environmental and economic benefits to the surrounding area.
Sinae Yu is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a young fellow of Asan Academy. She studied English Language & Literature and Philosophy at Seoul National University.
Luke Pluta-Ehlers is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington. He is a fourth-year undergraduate student at the University of Chicago studying Global Studies and Geography.
[Image by Michael Duangdara]