April 24, 2024

Topline

North Korea will welcome its first foreign tourists since closing its borders during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to news reports, a hint the isolated nation may be considering a revival of its small tourism industry amid growing tensions on the international stage.

Key Facts

A group of Russian tourists are expected to visit North Korea in early February, according to an advertisement by Vostok Intur, a travel agency based in Russia’s far eastern city of Vladivostok.

The four-day trip will include time in the capital Pyongyang, visits to local monuments, museums and temples, and skiing at the Masikryong Ski Resort, according to an online itinerary, with overnight stays in four and five star hotels.

The tour will cost travelers $750, the website said, which covers accommodation, entry tickets for planned excursions and transport, including direct flights from Vladivostok, but not ski passes or meals beyond breakfast at the hotel.

Travelers will be accompanied by Russian-speaking guides from the time they land in North Korea to the time they depart, the travel agency said.

The tour will depart Russia on Feb. 9 and will mark the first known time foreign tourists have visited the country since it closed its borders in 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is not clear how many tourists will be on the trip or whether follow up visits are planned.

News Peg

The trip comes amid growing military and political ties between Moscow and Pyongyang, including a rare trip abroad for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. It was arranged after Oleg Kozhemyako, the governor of Russia’s far eastern Primorsky Krai region bordering North Korea, visited the country with a delegation in December to discuss elevating economic ties. He reportedly visited the Masikryong Ski Resort as part of the trip and afterwards the region said it wants to create more travel routes between the two nations. Many Western countries advise citizens against travel to North Korea due to the risk of wrongful arrest and long-term detention by the oppressive ruling regime. The U.S. State Department said U.S. passports are invalid for travel in or through the country.

Crucial Quote

Simon Cockerell, general manager of Koryo Tours, a Beijing-based company specializing on travel to North Korea that is not involved with this trip, told Reuters news of the upcoming trip “is a good sign” for tourism in the country. “Given that no tourists have been for four-plus years, any tourism trip can be viewed as a positive step forward,” he said. However, Cockerell cautioned against reading too much into the trip as a signal for a “broader opening” of the tourist trade, pointing to the “special circumstances” behind it.

What To Watch For

North Korea is slated to host a football match for the Paris 2024 Olympics on February 24 at Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Stadium. The match is a qualifying game against the Japanese women’s team. Should the game go ahead, it would mark the big international sporting event hosted in the country since the pandemic and the first time Pyongyang has allowed foreign athletes into the country since closing its borders.

Further Reading

Growing North Korean Tourism Knocked Out By COVID-19 (Forbes)

North Korea hints at tourism reopening, but doubts remain (CNN)

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