February 21, 2024

On Expertise and Ethics: Tourism in North Korea

Does visiting North Korea as a tourist provide any useful insight?

In the words of Hong Yin Chol, Head of the Publicity Bureau for North Korea’s National Tourism Administration, “tourists from the whole world” are now welcome in North Korea. Notwithstanding Mr. Hong’s enthusiasm, North Korea remains a rather niche destination for holiday makers. Receiving just 75-80,000 tourists in 2011 (in contrast, nearly ten million tourists visited South Korea that year) nuclear weaponry, rather than sightseeing, still characterizes North Korea in the eyes of many.

So who actually goes to North Korea on holiday? Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of tourists are Chinese. Said to be lured by “the popularity of movies and songs from the DPRK in their youth,” North Korea’s appeal is more likely to be couched in its affordability and its proximity to the Chinese border. Despite accounting for just a fraction of the 70 million trips made by Chinese vacationers in 2011, the 70,000 Chinese tourists that did visit North Korea contributed a sizable $300 million to Sino-DPRK trade that year. With Chinese tourists parting with $73 billion annually, North Korea’s recent investment in its tourist infrastructure and the increasing number of Chinese tour operators offering trips to the DPRK indicates that money is to be made by both sides.