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Facing sanction challenges from the West, Russian tourists might just find a potential tourist destination in North Korea.

Among the last countries to resume tourism activities post-pandemic, North Korea is set to welcome its first international tourists in February, marking the end of its border closure since January 22, 2020. And tourists, especially in Russia, are taking note.

A Vladivostok-based Russian tour agency Vostok Intur advertised for a North Korea trip last week.

What Does The Trip Entail?

The four-day trip set to start on February 9, according to Vostok Intur’s website, has been priced at $750 per person, and features a stop in Pyongyang before skiing at Masikryong ski resort touted as North Korea’s “most modern ski resort.”

“We offer you a unique opportunity to go on an unforgettable trip, allowing you to combine active recreation on the slopes with beautiful scenery and learn more about the amazing culture of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea!” the website of the tour agency states.

The Dos and Don’ts (Mostly Don’ts)

Vostok Intur in its memo, details specific precautions tourists should observe.

Don’t Carry Travel Guides: The tour agency mentions, “Propaganda of the Western lifestyle, as well as books about North Korea published in the West (including tourist guides), are officially prohibited from import.” Travel guides and books newspapers or magazines about South and North Korea feature prominently on the list of “things to leave at home.”

No ATMs/Credit Card Terminals: While urging tourists to carry cash in Euros, U.S. Dollars, or Chinese Yuan, the website mentions that there are no ATMs or credit card terminals in the country.

Extensive Luggage Search: The tour agency mentions that the luggage may be subject to “extensive searches” when entering and leaving the country.

Photo Check: The website also forewarns that photos taken on digital cameras may be checked by border guards, and “some of them may be deleted.”

Travel to US or South Korea? Allaying fears of those who may later want to visit U.S. or South Korea, the tour agency mentions, “We have never heard from our clients about any problems crossing the U.S. or South Korean border with North Korea stamps in their passports.”

North Korean Foreign Affairs

The U.S. in 2019 revoked visa-free entry rights for foreigners who have visited North Korea since 2011. The US allows citizens of 41 countries — including South Korea, Japan and France — to enter for up to 90 days without a visa under a waiver program.

The Biden administration in August has also extended a ban on the use of U.S. passports for travel to North Korea. The ban, that’s in place till August 31, 2024, had been imposed in 2017, and has been renewed every year since.

Russian state-run news agency Tass said the Russian tour package to North Korea was arranged under an agreement reached between Oleg Kozhemyako, governor of Russia’s Primorye region, and North Korean authorities during Kozhemayko’s trip to Pyongyang in December.

In September 2023, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had also visited Russia. North Korea receiving Russian tourists before the Chinese — so far their largest foreign tourist category — is said to be an indication of Kim Jong Un prioritizing the country’s partnership with Russia.

Tourism in North Korea

Before the pandemic, 90% of the total international visitors to North Korea were reported to be from China.

In 2019, NK News research had estimated conservatively that around 350,000 Chinese visitors would have visited North Korea in that year generating some $175 million in revenue.

However, due to the lack of official statistics, evaluating tourism growth in North Korea relies solely on estimates provided by specialized institutions and media outlets.

38 North, a publication of the Stimson Center, in its 2021 report on North Korea, talks about tourism being a solid source of foreign currency for the regime before January 2020, estimating the loss during the pandemic to be over $175 million.

The inauguration of the Pyongyang Tourism College in 2014 was also seen as major push to encourage tourism.

Last month, news reports had also suggested that North Korea has resumed construction on the Wonsan-Kalma Coastal Tourist Zone modelled on Spain’s seaside resort Benidrom with beaches, skyscrapers and hotels.

The project, originally scheduled for completion by 2018, had been delayed due to the pandemic and is now expected to be completed by 2025.


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Tags: asia monthly, coronavirus recovery, north korea, russia outbound, ski resorts, ski tourism

Photo credit: Masikryong Ski Resort in North Korea. Bjørn Christian Tørrissen / Wikimedia Commons

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