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Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
North Korea’s National Tourism Administration (NTA) launched a new-look tourism portal website on Friday, claiming that demand for tours of the country is “on the rapid increase.”
The overhauled website, which promotes a range of North Korea tourist sites, itineraries, and travel news, says that the DPRK tour industry has been “developing afresh under the wise leadership of Supreme leader Kim Jong Un.”
The NTA, its website says, works to “provide excellent services for all people who hope to visit the country with a friendly feeling.”
But the emergence of the updated website follows a poorly-performing year for the DPRK’s tourism industry, with a decline in the number of foreign companies offering itineraries when compared to previous years.
Last year saw the U.S. ban its nationals from touring the DPRK in response to the death of Otto Warmbier – an American who passed away following his release from detention in the North last year and is widely believed to have been mistreated by his captors.
Fears of an armed conflict on the peninsula on the peninsula are also thought to have contributed.
“Tourism numbers are down from the last three or four years for sure,” said Simon Cockerell, General Manager of the Beijing-based Koryo Tours.
But while Cockerell said the upcoming April Pyongyang marathon would likely see a 50% drop compared to last year’s intake, tourist interest in the North has reportedly “(recently) been improving”.
The NTA’s new website also, notably, includes profile information on 12 state-owned domestic travel companies which fall under the remit of the organization, six of which offer nationwide itineraries and six of which provide localized or regional experiences.
It also includes a “theme tour guide” section, detailing specialty itineraries focusing on topics like aviation, train travel, surfing, architecture, labor, taekwondo, and more.
One of the themed itinerary-types featured even focuses on “labor tours,” which allow visitors to get “immersed in different labor life—manual rice-planting, weeding and fruit picking at the co-op farms or orchards in the country.”
“Recently, interesting labor tours organized by several travel companies… win popularity among the tourists,” the site says.
Companies like Koryo Tours, Young Pioneer Tours, Juche Travel Services and Uri Tours have been promoting an increasing array of niche-focus itineraries in recent years, many of which are also included in the theme tour section.
But despite all of the photos, videos, and information, tourists browsing the new website can still not book itineraries online, something which still needs to be done via third-party companies based in China, Europe, and south-east Asia.
The updated website, North Korea Tech‘s Martyn Williams said, could be part of an effort to generate more revenue for the country.
“With North Korea suffering so much from sanctions, tourism is increasingly important to the economy and one of the few legitimate ways it can make money,” he said.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: tourismdprk.gov.kp