Photos published on a North Korean travel agency’s website suggest that the country has begun operating accommodations originally established by a South Korean company at the Mount Kumgang resort.
Hyundai Asan – which ran the resort from 1999 until 2008 – confirmed to NK News on Monday that the photos feature its properties and that North Korea has apparently renamed the facilities.
An official at Hyundai Asan – who wished to remain anonymous – told NK News that the “Kosong [or Goseon] Port Accommodations” promoted in photos and an article on the website appeared to be identical to the company’s “Kumgang Pension Town,” which was part of a jointly run inter-Korean resort until 2008.
“We haven’t been able to visit Mount Kumgang to check the facilities since November 2015, but the name ‘Kosong Port Accommodation’ hadn’t been used before as far as we know,” the official said, adding the name change may have happened after company’s last visit to the resort.
Hyundai Asan said the company had not been aware that the North Korean government changed the name of the accommodations.
The website for the Chosun Mt. Kumgang International Travel Agency promotes the lodging facilities in the Wonsan-Mount Kumgang International Tourist Zone.
The travel agency also provides details about the facility’s capacity as well as about nearby attractions and restaurants, providing evidence that the facilities are currently being operated.
“The Kosong Port Accommodations have attracted particular attention among various accommodation facilities … in the special tourist zone while receiving a favorable review from tourists,” according to a statement published on the website on November 29.
The site said the accommodations are operated for international tourists visiting Mt. Kumgang and are located near the breakwater at Kosong Port. The facilities include 34 buildings in three different districts and can accommodate around 200 people.
The description is similar to one provided by Hyundai Asan, which said that Geumgang Pension Town has 34 units and a 150 person capacity.
The website also lays out a plan to expand and improve the facilities.
“It is planned to additionally establish a variety of tourist facilities around the Kosong Port in order to meet the diverse demands of tourists,” the website said.
The North is attempting to use Kosong Port to advertise a cruise tour and attract foreign investment.
The cruise tour links Mt. Kumgang with the northeastern city of Rason and kicked off in May 2013, state media Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.
The ‘Royale Star,’ a Singaporean cruise ship, has anchored at the Kosong Port in the past.
In March, the North Korean travel agency released investment guidelines to attract foreign investment for a new cruise ship connecting Mount Kumgang to the Russian city of Vladivostok and Southeast Asia. The 20 to 30,000-ton ferry will also dock at Kosong Port in Kangwon Province.
In addition to the cruise tour, the travel agency website said the DPRK is also soliciting foreign investment for a hotel construction project and for a street of new restaurants serving North Korean dishes near the Mount Kumgang resort.
North and South Korean jointly ran the Mount Kumgang resort until the Lee Myung-bak administration suspended operations in July 2008 after a North Korean soldier shot and killed a South Korean tourist.
In April 2010, a spokesman for the General Guidance Bureau for the Development of Scenic Spots announced that North Korea would “soon start” Mount Kumgang tours for domestic and international tourists along the lines of a “new business enterprise” since the agreement and contract with Hyundai Asan were “no longer valid.”
The bureau also said that as a first step the North would freeze “the Mt. Kumgang Reunion Center and the fire brigade belonging to” the South Korean government as well as “a cultural center, a hot spring resort, and tax exemption office” of the Korea Tourism Organization.
In March 2016, Pyongyang said it would “totally liquidate all the properties” of South Korean business groups and organizations in North Korean territory, releasing a statement by a spokesman for the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK).
To promote international tourism to the Mount Kumgang area, DPRK Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly adopted the “Law on Special Zone for International Tour for Mt. Kumgang” on May 31, 2011.
The law allows foreign investors and South Koreans to invest and set up facilities in the area, including “restaurants, casinos, golf courses, nightclubs, and medical treatment and amusement halls,” a KCNA report said on June 2, 2011.
A source who has visited the Mount Kumgang resort told NK News on Monday that tourism in the area is “pretty much dead” despite Pyongyang’s efforts to attract foreign investment for various projects.
“There were some other smaller local tourists there. It was nice to see but you’ve basically got these facilities here that can hold up to a thousand tourists, and it’s not being used to its full potential,” he said, adding that most tourists are Chinese and that Westerners have shown little interest in visiting.
The source said that he hadn’t been aware that North Korean government is using Hyundai Asan’s properties but that he wasn’t surprised by the news.
Edited by Bryan Betts
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