Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
North Korea is recently expanding its tourism industry, one of its major foreign currency earners.
North Korea is improving its tourism infrastructure to attract more foreign tourists, and recently introduced a new cruise ship to bring in tourists from China and other countries.
Workers’ Party of Korea’s mouthpiece Rodong Sinmun reported on February 21 that an opening ceremony for a Singapore cruise ship called the Royale Star was held at Rajin Port. The Rajin Port staff and government officials in the tourism sector from North Korea and China were in attendance. The new cruise ship is expected to revitalize the tourism in Rason and Mount Kumgang and the Rason Economic and Trade Zone.
Royale Star is expected to attract a large number of Chinese tourists.Although further details were not specified, Royale Star is also likely to travel between Rajin Port and Mount Kumgang in the Gangwon [Kangwon] Province, given the emphasis placed on Rajin-Mount Kumgang tours.
After a South Korean tourist was shot by a North Korean soldier at Mount Kumgang in July 2008, South Korean tours to the mountain resort came to a halt. Since then, North Korea has turned its attention to attracting Chinese and other foreign tourists. In August 2011, North Korea resumed operation of the Mangyongbong cruise ship (which was used to repatriate ethnic Koreans in Japan to North Korea in the late 1950s) as a pilot test for the operation of marine tourism to Rajin and Kumgang.
However, the pilot tour was rated poor due to the cruise ship’s old and substandard facilities. Passengers on the Mangyongbongfor the tour included foreign journalists from China, Russia, and the United States, and Chinese businessman. The ship set sail four times in 2011 from August to October. Four hundred Chinese tourists were said to have taken the tour. However, the cruise failed to attract tourists to operate on a regular basis.
North Korea explored the use of other luxury cruise ships from Hong Kong, as reported by Chinese media last year. North Korean authorities and Chinese travel agents seemingly came to the conclusion that cruise facilities and services must be drastically improved in order to attract more customers,and this has likely led to the recent introduction of the Singaporean cruise ship, Royale Star.
Royale Star is 138m in length and 28m in width, comprising a total of eight floors, and is supposedly equipped with a variety of facilities and services, including luxury rooms and bars, duty-free shops, a hair salon, lounge, and dining halls with live performances.A crew of more than 150 people was hired, including nationals from Singapore, Malaysia, India, Myanmar, Cambodia, Russia, Ukraine, and North Korea.
At the opening ceremony, the captain of the Royale Star announced, “We will accommodate our guests from many countries as a marine hotel. We will operate three days a week to allow our guests to enjoy the beautiful and unique scenery that North Korea has to offer and also sail to Mount Kumgang the last week of every month.”
Authorities also plan to open a hotel in Rajin Port to address the current lodging shortages in the Rason Special Economic Zone, which is under joint North Korea-China development. Last year about 600 to 700 Chinese visited the area during the peak season for tourism and business purposes,but reported to have experienced great difficulty finding accommodations.
As tourism to North Korea is gaining popularity in China, additional tours to Pyongyang, Kaesong, Panmunjeom, and Mount Kumgang are being considered, and new tourism infrastructure is being constructed in the border cities of Dongrim [Tongrim] (North Phyongan Province)and Kyongsong (North Hamgyong Province).