Who? – is the most obvious question is when a brutal, communist dictatorship is able to attract tourists.
Common sense suggests that you’d be hard pressed to find a vacationer willing to take a trip in North Korea, given the worrying headlines that consistently swirl around the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and as it was isolated further Friday as the United States that it will ban its citizens from visiting the country.
But international tourists do visit the country — and in the thousands.
Simon Cockerell, Beijing-based general manager of Koryo Tours, one of the largest international operators of trips to North Korea told the CNBC that tourists range in age from students to the retired. Cockerell detailed that it was “very common to have people booking alone.”
Roughly 75 percent of its clientele are male. Lupine Tours, a British company that offers trips to North Korea, said.
U.S. and U.K. nationals each make up 20 percent of its customer base for Koryo Tours. Australians, Canadians and those from Middle Eastern countries including Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and traveler from northern and western Europe make up the rest.
And according to Cockerell, down from a high of 6,000 in 2012,, the non-Chinese tourist market is currently 4,000-4,500 per year.
Cockerell said that about 95 percent of North Korea’s tourists is composed of Chinese. Often seeking nostalgia for China’s own, pre-industrialized past, less wealthy Chinese crossing the border for a day trip comprise most of this community, he added.
A Geographical Travel Restriction on U.S. nationals traveling to the country would be implemented by the U.S., it announced on Friday. This was “Due to mounting concerns over serious risk of arrest and long-term detention” of U.S. citizens, according to State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert. With the restriction going into place 30 days afterward. a notice will be published in the Federal Register this week.
North Korea is the only country in the world U.S. citizens cannot visit according to Reuters and no other countries have announced similar measures as yet.
“If the U.S. government says Americans cannot come to this country, we don’t care a bit,” senior North Korean official Han Chol-Su told Agence France-Presse Tuesday.
a response to American student Otto Warmbier’s recent death following a visit to North Korea was the cause of the U.S. measures, reported the media. After allegedly trying to steal a political slogan from a hotel, Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years in March 2016. He died in June this year after returning to the U.S. in a coma since he was released in the same month.
Despite United Nations sanctions, with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un continuing to test nuclear weapons — thought to be capable of reaching U.S. soil tensions in the Korean peninsula have amped up recently.
Even though the Otto Warmbier case had caused U.S. visitor numbers to drop off, military tension does not deter tourists, Koryo Tours said.
Limited consulate services are provided to U.S. citizens through the Embassy of Sweden as there is no U.S. consulate or embassy in North Korea.
Promotion of itself as a tourist destination is however done by North Korea. Tourists can also ski and surf in the country apart from visiting the capital Pyongyang, suggests its DPR Korea Tourism website.
The U.S. travel ban “comes as the Trump administration is looking for other ways to punish Pyongyang for the death of Warmbier and North Korea’s frequent missile tests throughout 2017,” said Isaac Stone Fish, senior fellow at the Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations.
(Adapted from CNBC)