Go East, Young Man! DPRK Seeks Russian Tourists Leery of the Middle East
Until quite recently, Russians seeking to get away from the hustle and bustle would often choose to vacation in nearby Egypt or Turkey; the latter even permitted visa-free travel for Russian citizens. However, Russian tourism has taken a nosedive since the bombing of a Russian airliner bound for Egypt and rising political tensions between Russia and Turkey. North Korea appears keen to fill the void, though the probability of success is slight.
North Korea is not a popular destination for tourists (except the small niche fascinated by the country and its political system). Even tourism from China is currently in decline. This is in part due to the restrictive nature of the place, where itineraries and access to sites are highly regulated. The DPRK has in recent years begun to ease some of the restrictions on tourists, such as allowing them to bring mobile phones into the country.
Aside from making visits more amenable for visitors, North Korea has also begun to work with China and Russia on a trilateral level to promote and foster tourism. Indeed, China, North Korea, and Russia have already set in motion plans to establish a special tourism zone in their common border area centered around the Tumen River. If it ever takes off, this will include visa-free entry and duty-free shopping. Optimistic Chinese officials spearheading the project hope it will come to include Japan, Mongolia, and South Korea.
In the meantime, North Korea has expressed its own specific desire to attract Russian tourists. In principle, North Korea’s outreach to Russia could not only affect recreational tourism, but also Russian businesspeople operating in the Russian Far East, who will enjoy looser entry regulations.
Of course, one of many barriers to success is geographic proximity. A flight from Moscow to Istanbul takes only three-and-a-half hours. To fly from one of Russia’s larger, wealthier population centers west of the Urals to North Korea, however, takes a good deal longer. As such, tourist exchange between North Korea and Russia will likely only ever be of interest to Russians living in the Far East, where the population is considerably smaller.
“North Korea offers tourists from Russia an alternative to Egypt and Turkey” [Северная Корея предлагает туристам из России альтернативу Египту и Турции]. Telekompaniya Zvezda1)Telekompaniya Zvezda is owned by the Russian Ministry of Defense., February 12, 2016.2)The original Russian text uses the term “Sea of Japan” (Японское море). To remain faithful to the translation, the author has kept this term to describe what Koreans usually describe as the “East Sea.”
North Korean authorities expect an increase in the flow of foreign tourists, particularly Russians, a representative from the propaganda department of North Korea’s state tourism agency, Lee Yeon-bok has revealed to TASS.
He mentioned that those Russians who refuse to travel to popular Egypt and Turkey can now relax in North Korea.
Until recently, North Korea was considered a closed country — not only for Russians but also for tourists as a whole. Now, however, North Korean officials are working on opening comfortable and interesting tour routes, and, in that regard, these programs will consider the interests of the Russian side.
One of the potential destinations include beaches at the resort town of Wonsan. Reecently the second-largest airport in the DPRK was constructed there, and it can serve over two thousand passengers per day.
North Korean authorities hope that the new airport will attract more tourists to places such as Wonsan and the Mount Kumgan tourist region on the coast of the Sea of Japan.
The state tourism authorities still have some touristic pearls: Masikryong Ski Resort, the Songdowon International Children’s Camp where children from the Russian Far East relax, and such mountains as the Diamond Mountains, famous ancient Buddhist temples, waterfalls and lakes.
For the increased influx of tourists into the country, Kim Jong-il set out to modernize hotels and roads and establish exciting programs. There are already routes open for mountain climbing aficionados as well as for taekwondo and horseback riding. For entrepreneurs, the authorities are discussing creating special business tours.
For Russian citizens who have decided to vacation in the DPRK, conditions for entering the country will be simplified.
Source: “North Korea offers tourists from Russia an alternative to Egypt and Turkey” [Северная Корея предлагает туристам из России альтернативу Египту и Турции]. Telekompaniya Zvezda, February 12, 2016. Translation by Anthony Rinna.