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View more articles by Colin Zwirko
Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
A North Korean tourism organization has announced pricing for the upcoming return of its “mass games” event, tripling some price tiers from the most recent games and raising the most expensive option to 800 euros per person, according to multiple foreign-based tour companies operating in the DPRK.
The upcoming mass games are slated to begin on September 9 as part of festivities surrounding the 70th anniversary of the country’s founding – the first such event in five years.
According to Rowan Beard of Young Pioneer Tours (YPT), partners with the DPRK’s Korea International Travel Company (KITC) confirmed the pricing would be 100 euros for third class, 300 euros for second class, 500 euros for first class, and 800 euros for VIP seats.
Pricing for the most recent mass games in 2013 began at 80 euros for third-class seats, moving up to 100 euros for second class, 150 euros for first class, and 300 euros for VIP seats.
The VIP option in the past allowed spectators to sit at a table in the lower-center part of the Rungrado May Day Stadium, where the events are set to again take place throughout September.
Marcus McFarland, a tour manager with Koryo Tours, also said Thursday that they were previously told by their North Korean partners that third-class seats would again be 80 euros this year, though he did not confirm which organization originally provided this information.
Koryo Tours also announced in a blog post in late June that local partners had confirmed the official English title for the games would be “The Glorious Country.”
McFarland also told NK News on Thursday that he was told capacity for foreigner tourists for this year’s games will be limited to 1500 for each performance – with 1150 third-class seats, 270 second-class seats, 50 first-class seats, and 30 VIP seats.
While the cheapest option, the third-class seats, are allocated the most spots and only see a 20 euro increase from the 2013 games, the next two tiers see the highest price increase: tripling the second-class and more than tripling the first-class options.
The price for a VIP ticket has more than doubled as local organizers stand to earn 500 euros more per buyer than in 2013.
The move comes as North Korea seeks to attract more foreign tourists bringing more foreign currency into the country – evident in the euro-based ticket pricing for international guests.
Current UN sanctions do not prevent tourists from entering North Korea and spending foreign currency, and the decision to bring back the mass games and substantially raise the prices from the previous event will likely see Pyongyang bring in big profits from the event.
This is particularly true as a large portion of the tens of thousands of performers are young students who are required by the state to participate, according to a landmark 2014 UN human rights report.
An autumn marathon featuring foreign participants will also be held in Pyongyang in September, with fees ranging from $70-110.
A previous U.S. ban on American passport-holders from entering North Korea will expire at the end of August if not renewed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Public practices for the mass games were first reported in May, with Kyodo News Agency releasing images in June of young students in white hats practicing flipping colored boards – suggesting that the “human pixel” screen will again be part of the performances.
Meanwhile, young people have also been seen throughout the past few weeks in Kim Il Sung Square practicing for a torchlight procession, likely set for September 9.
These torchlight rallies include tens of thousands of participants holding and moving torches to create slogans and animated images, and occur only on round-number special occasions, most recently in the square in May 2016 for the Seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK).
One was also conducted on September 9, 2008 to mark the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the country, at which time the event carried a specific name in state media: “The Homeland of Songun.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham