How North Korea is powering up its tourism industry

Things are shaping up for North Korea’s tourism industry. Source: Shutterstock.

FOLLOWING the historic Trump-Kim summit that took place on June 12, 2018, in Singapore, North Korea’s tourism promotions are already quickly picking up.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is ramping up efforts to develop the economy, with plans to invest US$7.8 billion to attract one million foreign tourists.

“Through tourism, North Korea can earn foreign currency without having to change its regime,” Seoul National University professor and Unveiling the North Korean Economy author Kim Byung Yeon said.

Previously, tourism was tightly controlled by its totalitarian government and the handful of travelers who have had the opportunity to visit the mysterious land have described it to be secretive.

Tourists have traditionally been restricted to Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, and straying away from the group or wandering around the hotel after hours may land you in trouble.

However, following the summit and amid warming up ties with South Korea and the US, North Korea’s tourism industry seems to be shaping up.

“Let’s be friends”

The hermit kingdom began cleaning up its act soon after the summit, with aims to present itself better.

Western tour operators have noticed that anti-American souvenirs (stamps, postcards, and other mementos attacking the US) once sold on the North Korean side of the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) have disappeared.

And it’s not just the DMZ. In Pyongyang, anti-American posters have been replaced by more positive and aspirational things.

Statues of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang. Source: Shutterstock

“All the anti-American posters I usually see around Kim Il Sung Square and at shops (in Pyongyang), they’ve all just gone,” Reuters quoted Young Pioneer Tours tour manager Rowan Beard as saying. “In five years working in North Korea, I’ve never seen them completely disappear before.”

South Korea mulling North Korean destinations

South Korea currently does not permit its naturalized citizens to travel to North Korea. But that’s about to change.

In February, South Korea’s unification ministry said it would be open to discussing resuming tours to North Korea once the security of tourists was guaranteed and “conditions relating to North Korea’s nuclear program are met.”

Will South Koreans finally be able to visit North Korea? Source: Shutterstock.

Following Kim Jong Un’s move to dismantle its Punggye-ri nuclear test site, South Korea’s Culture Ministry is now mulling tour programmes in North Korea.

Specifically, the ministry is looking at three places: Mount Kumgang (Diamond Mountain), Kaesong, and Mount Baekdu.

Wonsan-Kalma coastal tourist zone

Kim Jong Un is pushing for a massive tourism project in the country’s eastern coastal city of Wonsan, located 180km from Pyongyang.

Called the Wonsan-Kalma coastal tourist zone, it could be the quickest and easiest way to gain foreign currency. The Kalma airport, which was initially reserved for the military, has also been opened for civilian use, servicing domestic air service between Wonsan and Pyongyang.

The leader had recently visited the zone and ordered the completion of the project by April 15, 2019 – the birthday of the late North Korean founder and Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung.

“The tourist project is only a beginning. I expect North Korea to open its economy as much as China and Vietnam did,” Kim Byung Yeon said.

China allows Air Koryo in

China, the world’s most populous country, has agreed to let North Korean flag carrier Air Koryo offer flights between Xi’an and Pyongyang starting next month.

Earlier this month, China’s national airline Air China resumed regular flights between Beijing and Pyongyang after a suspension of more than six months.

Air Koryo’s planned flights to Xi’an, China will mark the country’s emergence from isolation. Source: Shutterstock.

Several Xi’an-based tour agencies are already planning tourism products for potential North Korean travelers.

This is coming after Chinese President Xi Jinping and Kim Jong Un held multiple meetings in China since March, with the most recent being June 19, 2018, where the latter briefed Xi on the Trump-Kim summit.

Since coming to power in 2011, Kim Jong Un has been trying to boost the tourism industry.

In March, the country’s National Tourism Administration’s (NTA) launched an overhauled tourism portal to “provide excellent services for all people who hope to visit the country with a friendly feeling.”

Now, all there’s left to do is to lift or relax the travel bans that have been put in place.