A dismal year at Kumgang, but tour firm still hopeful

Joong Ang Daily
Seo Ji-eun

Last year was a nightmare for Hyundai Asan Co., the sole domestic operator of inter-Korean businesses. But the Hyundai Group affiliate sees brighter days ahead for its tourism program at Mount Kumgang, a scenic North Korean resort, this year, and is stepping up marketing efforts.

Earlier this month the company launched a radio ad campaign featuring a decades-old Korean children¡’s song including the lyric, “Let¡’s go to Mount Kumgang.” The commercial does not identify Hyundai Asan as the tour operator, and Hyundai Asan said the broadcast was aimed at promoting the destination among tourists.

The company is also offering discounts of 25 percent for people born in the year of pig, which falls this year and every 12th year, and students who took college entrance exams late last year. One parent per student can also receive the discount, which will last until late next month.

Perhaps helped by those events, a Hyundai Asan spokesman said the number of reservations for January has passed 10,000, which is around the monthly average.

“When tour programs to the inner part of Mount Kumgang launch this spring and the golf resort opens in October after starting trials in June,” the spokesman said, “we definitely expect more tourists unless unexpected political factors erupt.”

Hyundai Asan earlier in the month said it aims to attract 400,000 tourists to the North Korean mountain this year. It set the same goal last year but fell far short with 240,000 tourists when reservations plummeted after North Korea’s missile launch in July, severe floods during the summer and the North¡’s nuclear test in October. Immediately after the nuke test, 65 percent of customers began to cancel their reservations, and a large portion of travelers who would have crowded the resort to see the autumn foliage didn’t come.

More than 300,000 people, a record-breaking figure, visited Mount Kumgang in 2005.

Meanwhile, a government source close to North Korea said yesterday that North Korea would start a tourism project at Kaesong, a joint inter-Korean business site in the North, with Hyundai Asan instead of Lotte Tours, the company North Korea wanted to work with instead. Neither the Unification Ministry nor Hyundai Asan released an official statement regarding that issue.


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