Howard County Asia night market was a disaster to some, but organizers will try again in Baltimore

Published on: November 18, 2022 6:00 AM EST|Updated on: November 18, 2022 12:22 PM EST

The organizers of Howard County’s first Asia Collective Night Market, that many called a “disaster” because of gridlocked traffic and long lines, are trying their hand at another cultural festival — this time hosting a similar event in Baltimore, but with the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore.

Their latest venture, the Lunar Cultural Festival, will be held at West Shore Park at the Inner Harbor Jan. 21 and 22. It will celebrate the first day of the lunar calendar, which is widely observed in countries in East, South and Southeast Asia.

More than 25,000 people attended the Asia Collective Night Market in August, according to F2 entertainment, the group that organized the festival. While the event required tickets, Howard County Police said far more people attended the festival without tickets, which may have contributed to traffic backing up for miles on Interstate 70. There were not enough tickets for parking at the event location, either.

Many ticketholders of the August festival took to Instagram and Facebook, calling out the Asia Collective Night Market organizers, and “thousands” of tickets ended up being refunded, the organizers said.

“We’re really thinking about how we can modify how we did things,” said Yumin Gao, one of the organizers of the Asia Collective Night Market. “So that more people can actually enjoy the culture and just have a great time and celebrate the new year.”

Gao and the Waterfront Partnership are promising the Lunar Night Festival will be different.

For starters, they will lean on the expertise of Waterfront Partnership, which throws events year-around and provides events services.

Waterfront Partnership will oversee emergency services, electricity, security, waste management, permitting and crowd control, the organizers said. The festival will have nine security posts, first aid services at the visitor center and eight emergency exit areas.

“We can work on all the different issues that Asia Collective Night Market had and make an event that is an evolution of that,” said Aaron Cuison, director of marketing at Waterfront Partnership.

Cuison got in touch with Asia Collective Night Market organizers a couple of weeks before the August festival because he liked the concept. After attending the event in August, Cuison thought that Waterfront Partnership could offer expertise and resources to the group.

Many of those who went to the food festival in August complained about the long lines to order food, raising concerns about crowd control. After gathering feedback from ticket holders and vendors, organizers have pivoted to mobile ordering to hopefully decrease waiting times, Gao said.

The organizers are working with Peblla, a technology company based in North Bethesda that automates ordering through a mobile app. Chris Liang, Peblla’s co-founder, said his clients have used the mobile app at other festivals, but this will be the company’s first food festival in which they are supporting the whole system.

The organizers are expecting just as big of a crowd over the two daysat the Inner Harbor as came to Howard County, but hope that crowd control will be easier with the open space in the Inner Harbor area, Gao said.

The ticketed area, promised to be a hub for cultural performances, is set to showcase more than 30 traditional folk artists and cultural performers and will have a 2,000-person capacity.

Tickets will be timed-entry, meaning only valid on “the day and during the assigned time slot indicated,” according to the Lunar Night website. Organizers will be scanning tickets upon entry and will use a “digital counter” to monitor people exiting. Ticketholders can stay in the ticketed area “as long as they would like to.”

Organizers are also selling 1,000 tickets for every two-hour window, about half of the venue’s maximum capacity. While they will be selling tickets during the event, they may limit sales for crowd control.

The Waterfront Partnership also set up a partnership with water taxis, Cuison said, and the festival will be accessible by light rail, buses at the Baltimore Visitor Center, Metro and the MARC train.

Despite the extra precautions, some are soured by their August experience in Howard County. Tatiana Mannino, who attended the festival, said she likely will not go to the Lunar Night festival in Baltimore, even though she lives in the city.

“I would kick myself if I went and it happened all over again,” she said.

But Mannino may change her mind if the Lunar Night is a success, she said, and the organizers throw another event in the future.

“Maybe I would have some faith back,” she said.

Lisa Yee, who traveled to the August festival from Gaithersburg, had enjoyed the cultural performances at the August night market. She isn’t sure she would pay for a ticket to attend the Lunar Night, though, adding she would likely go for the food vendors. She likes that organizers are providing accommodations for people with disabilities and implementing a mobile app to order food.

”It does sound like they fixed a lot of issues and a lot of concerns that people had,” Yee said.