Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
North Korea is developing its tourism industry as a way to increase its foreign currency earnings. Recently, there appear an increasing number of tour packages targeted attracting Chinese visitors to the DPRK, with new tour packages actively being promoted.
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on October 8 that there are new professional tour programs that are gaining international attention. In the article, new and creative tours were featured, including Mount Paektu tours with [Air] Koryo Airlines and bicycle tours. Mini-golf tours are also reportedly scheduled for next year.
Along with North Korea, Chinese tour companies are also taking interest in this effort and are developing various tour packages via air, land, and sea routes. In June, charted plane tours from Shenyang started, and now new tours from Dalian to Mount Kumgang are also being launched.
Across the border from the North Korean city of Sinuiju is the Chinese city of Dandong, where there are over ten travel agencies that operate daily train tours between the two cities. In fact, during holidays and weekends, more and more Chinese tourists are flocking to the China-North Korean Friendship Bridge that traverses the Yalu River, connecting the two cities.
The recent rise of Chinese tourists to North Korea is attributed to the aggressive marketing schemes of the North Korean government. The State Tourism Bureau teamed up with a Chinese travel company to run a tour to Mt. Paektu. North Korea, faced with international economic sanctions, has limited means to earn foreign currency. The new Kim Jong Un regime is actively seeking ways to earn foreign capital through the tourism industry. Chinese companies are responding positively and swiftly to this change and are coming up with new tourism programs.
North Korea is utilizing its image as ‘closed country’ and ‘hermit kingdom’ to stimulate curiosity among tourists. More and more Chinese are able to enter North Korea without a visa (requiring only their passports) and this is adding to the spike in Chinese tourists to the country. Most Chinese travel agencies are able to make all the necessary travel arrangements to North Korea in less than a week once the interested person submits his/her passport and photos.
However, there are comments from returning visitors that tours are limited to historic and famous sites and somewhat insular as contact with the locals is prohibited. North Korean national security agents accompany all tour groups. Despite this fact, many experts expect the number of Chinese visitors to the DPRK will continue to increase in the future.
*NKeconWatch: For additional information, see “North Korean minders endure Chinese invasion” in the Asia Times (2012-11-8).