Perservering through the pandemic
Before I even checked in at Lotte Hotel Seattle, the city’s newest luxury property from Korea’s largest hotel group, marketing manager Garam Kim reached out via email to welcome me. Sometimes these emails can seem perfunctory, but Garam’s struck me as remarkably genuine. When I arrived, she seemingly teleported to the lobby from her office to greet me with a chic bonhomie so radiant that I could feel her smile even behind her mask. I was inspired by how upbeat Garam and her team were, despite opening in September 2020 in the middle of the pandemic and still operating at much lower occupancy levels than normal.
Garam is Korean American and naturally embodies an elegance that seems to mirror the essence I felt while walking through the Lotte Hotel. I was told the Lotte brand is known for its Korean hospitality and Garam was certainly an extension of that trait, exuding a warmth I was drawn to. Paired with Garam’s pedigree working on the marketing team at The Peninsula New York for four years, I knew immediately the Lotte was lucky to have her.
Garam got married in March 2020, right before the pandemic shut down the world and moved from New York to Seattle for her husband’s new job opportunity. Stumbling upon the opportunity to join Lotte Hotel Seattle’s pre-opening team was kismet. Judging by reviews, she has certainly played a large role in why Lotte Hotel Seattle recently became the top-ranked hotel in Seattle on TripAdvisor.
I’ve never been to Korea before, but Garam told me that the Lotte brand is a staple in Korean culture. Not just a hotel brand, Lotte operates amusement parks, stadiums, shopping malls, confectionery, chemicals and other businesses. I can tell from the pride in her voice that she considers it an honor to represent such an established South Korean brand for a new audience in Seattle.
As we talked more about her wedding, I felt like I was sitting with a friend. I admired some of her stunning wedding photos on Instagram and Garam shared how she’s so looking forward to planning larger gatherings and celebrations at Lotte Hotel Seattle as we emerge from the pandemic. In particular, showcasing “The Sanctuary,” the nation’s oldest Beaux-style architecture building, built in 1908 as America’s first United Methodist Church. I was in awe of the pipe organ, stained-glass windows and ceilings, which have all been preserved. Indeed a picturesque wedding venue.
Themed concepts and turnkey wedding packages are very popular in Korea and Garam delights in being a part of a team that introduces these traditions to Seattle brides and grooms.
Toward the end of our tour, I learned Garam found me on social media before I arrived and deducing that I have an affinity for chocolate, she let me peek behind the scenes of the pastry kitchen and meet the hotel’s talented pastry chef, Artis Kalsons. Kalsons is a wizard with chocolate and was working on colorful Easter displays for the hotel lobby. Before parting ways, Garam had a surprise – sending me back to my room with a beautiful chocolate Easter egg sculpture that was almost too pretty to eat, filled with pillowy housemade marshmallows inside.
Meeting Garam made me want to visit Korea even more, and I’m sure we’ll keep in touch, whether it’s next time I’m in Seattle or for recommendations on which Lotte hotel to stay at in South Korea.
Amber Gibson is a freelance journalist specializing in travel, food, wine and wellness with bylines in Conde Nast Traveler, Fodor’s, Robb Report, Travel + Leisure, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Artful Living, NBC, NPR, USA Today and many more. Dark chocolate, champagne and gelato are her biggest weaknesses.