North Korea made a strong push to promote domestic vacations to its citizens in August, advertising beach holiday opportunities in the domestic press and on national television.
Together, the increased coverage and direct advertising of domestic vacationing opportunities suggests that increasing numbers of North Koreans are now aware of the concept of domestic tourism and national beach vacation spots.
Previously, the concept of beach vacationing was restricted to North Korea’s elite, foreign tourists, or those coming from the towns closest to the resorts.
An August 16 edition of Rodong Sinmun featured advertising for domestic beach holidays aimed at what appear to be average North Korean citizens.
Although prices were not listed, the advert – created by the Pyongyang City People’s Committee – invited North Koreans to apply for tickets to the Ryong Su Po beach area for holidays of up to three days.
The advertisement said that work units and individual families were eligible to apply, publicizing features of the holiday that included tent hire for up to 15 people, parasols for the beach, and paddle boats for entertainment.
Advertising is not common in the North Korean press, so the inclusion of August’s advertisement to visit the beach was particularly noteworthy.
But isn’t was just in newspapers that North Korea has been pushing its beaches this summer.
Domestic TV reports from August 13 showed thousands of North Koreans on holiday in the Majon Beach area – near Hamhung -swimming in the ocean and enjoying games of beach volleyball. That report followed consecutive mentions of the same beach resort on national TV in May, June and July.
Chu Kyong-hwa of the Majon Amusement Park Management Station was shown in Korea Central TV’s August report explaining that the Majon beach resort receives 30,000 daily visitors from around the country, up to 70,000 during holiday periods.
Although these numbers are unlikely to be accurate, the message of the TV broadcast was clear – that the nation’s beach resorts were open and being enjoyed by a wide variety North Koreans.
Taken together the TV coverage and advertising in the Rodong Sinmun suggests that in 2013, more North Koreans might have access to summer beach holidays than had been previously thought.
Beach resort vacations are not thought to be common in North Korea, with defector testimony suggesting that only privileged families have traditionally been capable of making the most of the sea.
“I know that there are some really fortunate people in North Korea who have enough time and money go to nearby beaches or valleys with friends or family,” Jae Young-Kim, a North Korean refugee told NK News last year.
“But, it is not common situation and most people just go to the closest valley or mountain when they have free time, quietly enjoying the environment or spending time by going fishing,” she added.
Even getting time off to enjoy a beach can be difficult, with one refugee explaining to NK News that the little vacation time on offer can often be politically focused.
For example the “Anti-U.S. Joint Struggle Month”, which goes from June 25 to July 27, involves a large number of events, consisting of political rallies and lectures, rather than giving time for North Koreans the chance to get away.
“My family was forced to watch various propaganda movies such as ‘Unsung Heroes’ as well as the exhibitions during this period”, one North Korean defector called Choi told NK News, explaining how he was only given time off work to take part in the anti-U.S. events.
“The main idea the North Korean government is trying to infuse on us is the fact that the U.S. used to exploit the North mercilessly and we defeated the U.S. thanks to Kim Il Sung”, said Lee Seung Hee, another North Korean refugee who had attended similar events.
THREE TYPES OF VACATION
In North of the DMZ, Dr. Andrei Lankov says that holidays in North Korea are generally divided into three groups.
Firstly the political holiday, such as the birthdays of Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il. Second the traditional holiday, such as Chuseok or “Korean Thanksgiving”. Finally the professional holiday, which is allocated at different times of the year, depending on the industry or jobs a worker is in.
Of the three, vacationing as part of a professional holiday is one of the most common ways a North Korean can visit a place outside outside of their hometown.
During these work trips, Lankov explains that entire offices and work units are organized and transported to holiday areas directly by their employer to enjoy free time together, though the ‘vacations’ are often designed with a strong political dint.
Although not all North Koreans’ vacation time is restricted or ordered by the government, barriers still exist that prevent ordinary citizens from enjoying what most see as a typical summer vacation.
“People living around the ocean area are usually able to go to a beach for vacation. But those who live inland rarely have such chances”, Kim Su Min, a North Korean refugee, told NK News.
Indeed, travelling towards the coast relies on transportation access and authorization to move from one’s residential area. Aside from those hurdles, there is then the task of finding and paying for accommodation, something that can be difficult without state subsidies.
Quite how the beach trips offered and promoted in North Korea’s national media this summer fit with existing understandings of holiday culture is yet to be seen, but the beach advertising in the Rodong Sinmun signals a welcome improvement.
Main picture: Eric Lafforgue, NK News Calendar 2013