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View more articles by Yeseul Loaiza
Yeseul is an NK News contributor based in California
Reports are circulating that a new luxury class hotel / casino is under construction in Pyongyang, seemingly as part of a China backed plan to boost North Korean de-luxe hotel capacity.
The news comes just months after luxury hotel group Kempinski revealed that they would be opening rooms at Pyongyang’s iconic, pyramid shaped “Ryugyong Hotel”.
Chosun Exchange’s Geoffrey K. See confirmed the development, taking a photograph of foundation work (pictured above) while visiting Pyongyang last month. During his stay, See wrote that he heard that the new luxury hotel would be between 45-75 floors and fill a “gaping hole” next to the Koryo Hotel, where several construction teams were working to the tune of revolutionary music.
A source who travels to Pyongyang on a regular basis told NK NEWS that the new development would be called the Yonggwang (영광호텔 – “Glory”) Hotel, a “Seven star joint venture with the Chinese, to be completed within two to three years”.
Reports of the new hotel were confirmed recently by South Korea’s KBS program ‘Close-up North Korea’, which claims there is a tourist related construction boom taking place in Pyongyang in its affiliated magazine.
An article entitled ‘Pyongyang is Now Remodelling’ reports a suite of projects currently under way, including construction of new hotels and the refurbishment of old ones.
Their article confirms that a new hotel-casino named Yonggwang (영광호텔 – “Glory”) is being built adjacent to the Koryo Hotel, though it suggests it will be five stars upon completion – not seven. The magazine confirmed that the hotel appears to be financed by a joint venture of foreign (mostly Chinese) and North Korean government capital.
‘Close Up North Korea’ say that another hotel named ‘Taedonggang Hotel’ is being built near the Taedong River area, where a hotel of the same name burned down in 2002. That rebuild project is part of what is being called the ‘Taedonggang Renaissance Development”, through which the North Korean government is trying to attract more casino customers by remodeling antiquated hotels in the area, including the Yangkakdo Hotel (the bottom red circle).
The report says that other construction projects are under way to widen the tourist attractions in the ‘Taedonggang Renaissance Development’ area.
In a sign of further tourist-friendly development projects, North Korean state news agency KCNA reported in February on the construction of the ‘Inmin Kukjang’ theatre, a mini golf course and a new swimming pool, to be built on Changjeon Street.
According to Northeast Asian Research Center Executive Director Lee Sang-jun, the construction ‘boom’ indicates the Kim Jong Un government wants to open North Korea to the world much more than his predecessors.
In a KBS interview, Lee said the North Korean government is paying more attention to the hotel industry in Pyongyang, because hotels are the most effective place to portray regime stability to tourists.
With the capital’s famous Ryugyong Hotel also scheduled to be opened via luxury company Kempinski at some point this year, the new Chinese hotel adjacent to the Koryo will significantly raise the number of luxury rooms available in the capital city.
“Over twenty thousand Chinese tourists go to North Korea each year” said NK News Director Chad O’Carroll. “Often many of these visits are for day trips only, but the new “Glory” Hotel may be being built specifically with an affluent, gambling loving Chinese audience in mind”.
Coupled with several new aircraft purchases that Air Koryo has recently made, it looks like Pyongyang is keen to increase tourism as much as possible. Meanwhile, North Korea tour agencies are offering numerous new special tour packages this year, including mini golf, fishing, and cycling tours this year.
Under headlines claiming ‘Surging Tour Boosts to North Korea’ and ‘Brighter Prospects on Bringing more Tourists this Year’, North Korean media in February said that foreigners will soon be able to experience North Korean history, culture, and politics through a new range of tours.
While the booming tourist business may increase North Korea foreign currency reserves, those profits are unlikely to be used to improve the lot of local citizens. 60 to 70 per cent of investment in the new construction projects has so far been made with foreign capital. As such, most of the profits from new tourism will not be reinvested in North Korea but will go to foreign investors.
Chosun Exchange’s Geoffrey K. See