News of North Korea tends to constantly be on the agenda in media outlets worldwide. Mostly because of the country’s nuclear policy and constant threat to international security. However, lately there has been a slight change in the information presented by the media. Something that captures attention has happened – more and more information about North Korea aiming at attract direct foreign investment to the country in order to develop its tourism industry is now being reported on. This is an interesting phenomenon for such a secretive country that fears the spread of Western values among its society. Indeed, North Korea has already began developing its tourism by building tourist attractions. Nowadays it has become easier to get a visa to go there for leisurely and scenic purposes, as a tourist.
What made the North Korean government reconsider their policies regarding traveling to the country? And what might this mean? Most likely, it is economic benefit that has made the North Korean government rethink its policies. The country’s economy is weak and unstable so the government is trying to address the situation by attracting foreign currency throughout means of promoting tourism. This could result in tremendous changes in the relations between North Korea and the rest of the world. Or perhaps this change of heart in North Korean politicians had could lead to something greater and indeed a brighter future for the country. So far, it is difficult to judge and quite impossible to predict how things will unravel.
Whilst, it is becoming easier to go to North Korea some other questions arise. What would it be like to go on a holiday to the most isolated country in the world? What is to be expect behind its borders?
If you are interested in visiting this country, the only way to go to North Korea is with organised tours facilitated by travel agencies. Almost the entire tourism sphere for western tourists in DPRK is monopolized by two companies – Koryo Tours and Young Pioneers Tours, both based in Beijing. No limitations on who can enter the country exist – everyone can go no matter what your nationality is. Unfortunately, no exact data on the number of tourists visiting North Korea annually exists. The only statistics that we can refer to are provided by NK News (a website publishing news in North Korea). Around 6 000 western tourist per year are reported to visit North Korea and the number is increasing annually.
The majority of current tours focus on the capital of North Korea – Pyongyang. However, new locations are being developed for future tours. Several new tourist attractions have already appeared or are in development in North Korea. The most remarkable one is the Masik Pass Ski Resort in Wonsan, which opened a year ago. This resort is one of the most important facilities aimed at attracting foreigners to North Korea. There is also the Munsu Water Park, and a brand-new surf resort that is equipped with numerous tourist amenities.
Essentially, the government is trying its best to turn the country into a location which is attractive to tourist from all over the world. Nevertheless, many people question the moral implication of tourism to North Korea.
When it comes to making a decision on whether to go to North Korea, moral and ethical issues of visiting this secretive state gain relevance. The country that is notorious for numerous gross human right violations, and its development and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction would seems to be an unsuitable place for leisurely travel. Critics claim that tourism is a means of funding the government’s propaganda and their tyrannical regime, and therefore, should not be encouraged. As economic data is not provided by the government, it is unknown where the profits raised through the tourism industry will be directed. It is argued that foreign currency brought by the tourists might go on expansion of the North Korean nuclear sphere, supporting the potential for crimes against humanity.
Still it is very unlikely that the money that North Korean government gets from tourism might be used for tightening the situation in the country. The contribution of tourism to North Korea economically is insignificant, therefore it is incorrect to assume that the profit made on foreign travelers will be used to build more prisons and support human rights violations. On the contrary, if North Korea does gain in foreign currency, it will potentially be able to engage in financial transactions with other countries, and export goods. More importantly, frequent visits of Western people might breach informational blockades and show ordinary North Koreans fragments of western life, raise awareness of the reality beyond the border, change the way they see the rest of the world, and perhaps even plant an idea that they are able to create change in the country. Additionally, tourism might become a ground for better relations between North Korea and other states.
Even though abundant propaganda will always proliferate – the designated tour guides will only show visitors only what the government wants them to see and try their best to avoid any kind of tourist interaction with locals and harsh reality – tourism should not be discouraged. It is to be perceived as a tool to establish tighter connection between peoples and state.
Without a doubt, North Korea has been losing its reputation as one of the most out of reach places in the world to visit. More and more opportunities to travel there are emerging every day. This shift in the politics of a state that used to be of extremely anti-Western orientation could be a positive sign. It may take much time to see the change and improvement but as North Korea has already taken a step towards the world, the world should not turn its back on it.
By Evgenia Isaeva
Picture 1, 2: (stephan), licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Picture 3: Benjamin Jakabek, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0