July 20, 2024

A group of Russian tourists is expected to be the first known visitors to North Korea since the COVID-19 pandemic, as Russian provincial authorities and a Western tour guide revealed in a post.

According to Reuters, the trip was arranged in December when the governor of Russia’s region of Primorsky Krai, which borders North Korea, visited Pyongyang, VisaGuide.World reports.

North Korea had some of the strictest border controls globally during the COVID-19 pandemic and, since then, has remained largely closed to foreigners. The upcoming tour, advertised by Vladivostok agency, is scheduled to depart on February 9 and will take the group to key destinations such as Pyongyang and a ski resort, the online itinerary reveals.

Simon Cockerell, the general manager of Beijing-based Koryo Tours, confirmed that the authorities had approved this visit under special circumstances.

It is a good sign, but I would hesitate to say it necessarily will lead to a broader opening due to the special circumstances for this one trip. 

Simon Cockerell, general manager at Beijing-based Koryo Tours.

The lack of tourism activity in North Korea for over four years makes this trip particularly noteworthy, and as Cockerell says, ‘any tourism trip is a positive step forward,’ even if it does not immediately indicate a broader relaxation of border controls.

The geopolitical backdrop includes a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin in eastern Russia in September. Despite international sanctions, the leaders pledged to strengthen cooperation on economic, political, and military matters, despite the ongoing international sanctions.

In addition, tourism remains largely unaffected by the UN Security Council resolutions that restrict business dealings with North Korea due to its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

Before the pandemic, North Korea experienced a surge in Chinese tourists, which generated around $175 million in 2019, according to Seoul-based NK News. While the upcoming Russian tourist group represents a positive development, the long-term impact on North Korea’s tourism industry remains uncertain.

Previously, North Korea resumed visa issuance for Chinese people – four years after the government sealed its borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a report from the Diplomat, authorities in North Korea have prioritised issuing visas for Chinese investors, traders, and technicians, among other categories.

Authorities in North Korea started receiving visa applications from Chinese nationals two months ago, and from December 1, they started issuing visas. The visa issued to a Chinese national, as the Daily NK reveals, was valid for a period of 90 days.

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