North Korea is promoting and expanding its domestic tourism market, according to recent visitors and a brochure obtained by NK News.
The new push gives apparently gives North Koreans the opportunity to visit the country’s tourism hot spots as part of organized tour groups.
“I am told that it is ‘increasingly popular’ but then that is not difficult for an industry that barely existed previously,” Simon Cockerell, general manager of Koryo Tours told NK News, adding he sometimes saw local tourists “taking trips to places like the ski resort or Mt. Myohyang in organised groups”.
“There is a department in (the) Korea International Travel Company (KITC) now to organize domestic trips for Korean people, I mean DPRK citizens, not Koreans from overseas, but real local tourism for a new market of individuals.”
A brochure from the Pyongyang Tour Agency – depicted in photos obtained from a local restaurant in the capital often frequented by foreigners – appears to back the claims that some companies in North Korea are promoting the industry for locals.
The company apparently provides fast and modern transportation to all over North Korea including Mount Baekdu, Mount Kumgang, Mount Chilbo, Mount Myohyang, Pyongyang, Kaesong, Majon Beach and other tourist hotspots along the Yellow Sea.
“The agency will provide a splendid service to clients who wish to visit parts of our country, the country that is changing every day,” the brochure reads.
Relatively little is known about the domestic-facing tour agency (Pyongyang Gwan-gwang-sa). Its name has not appeared in any of the North Korean state-run media outlets, though the Japanese run Choson Sinbo did mention the company at the start of last year.
The article introduced Kim Nam Chol (aged 43 at the time of interview) as the CEO of the agency and claimed that daily DPRK visitors to the North’s Masikryong Ski Resort number between 1000 – 1500, with 2000 heading to the slopes on some occasions.
It isn’t clear when the North officially started the domestic tourism push and deviated from their long practice of focusing only on foreign visitors. However, Rowan Beard from Young Pioneer Tours said it was 2014 when KITC started to have an interest in domestic tourism.
“KITC weren’t so big on domestic tourism for North Koreans until Ebola came. When KITC had no foreign tourists for five months they had nothing to do,” Beard told NK News, adding this was why “they stepped up their domestic tourism.”
As a result, “they created new day trips and weekend trips away for local Korean… (but) it flopped massively, because they weren’t allowed to advertise this anywhere, even though they urgently needed some income.”
Beard said that prior to the appearance of the adverts, the “only way for people to hear of this was from verbal contact,” limiting the phenomena.
A South Korean researcher said that this change would lead to the development of bigger and more stable tourism industry in the North, while increasing the government’s income.
“By developing a domestic tour industry, the North Korean government can absorb more of the locals’ foreign currencies,” Dr. Lim Eul-chul, professor at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University told NK News
“The North has invested a lot in its tourism infrastructure, but the number of foreign tourists to sustain it was never enough. So it is possible that the North felt the need to increase the scale of its tourism business, by involving the locals.”
The new push towards the domestic market comes amid rumors that Chinese tourist visitors to the DPRK — once the largest slice of the market — have dropped significantly in recent months.
The cause of the sharp decrease has been cited as resulting from South Korean pressure to Chinese travel agencies to either choose offering visas to the South or North, but not both.
Advertisements for domestic beach holidays have previously emerged in North Korean daily newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, as well as state television.
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