North Korea

North Korea tourism revival expected in China as relations thaw

Number of cross-border tourists expected to increase this year, with rising interest from potential visitors and tensions lower on the peninsula

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 June, 2018, 4:01pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 June, 2018, 11:25pm

The number of tourists entering North Korea from China is expected to rise significantly in 2018, with Chinese and overseas travellers eager to experience the hermit kingdom that may be on the brink of opening up, industry insiders and local officials say.

More cross-border tour routes and tourism sites in North Korea will be on offer by tour agencies in China’s northeast province of Jilin, which borders North Korea, and there has already been a clear growth in tourists seeking travel information about the country, as geopolitical tensions have eased since Kim Jong-un’s first visit to Beijing, in March.

“Several infrastructure projects for tourism sites in North Korea are under construction,” said Che Jing, a deputy manager of a travel company in Jilin’s capital of Changchun, at an event promoting the province’s tourism in Shenzhen on Thursday.

“We are going to run at least seven or eight tour routes to North Korea this year, including a one-day tour to Nanyo and a trip of four to five days to Pyongyang, Kaesong and Panmunjom.

“We served over 40,000 tourists travelling in Jilin last year, and half of them experienced cross-border tours. We hope the number of cross-border tourists could increase 30 or 40 per cent this year.”

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China’s tourism authorities haven’t published the numbers of Chinese tourists visiting North Korea since 2012. According to a 2012 annual report by China’s national tourism administration, 237,400 tourists visited North Korea from China, a rise of 22.5 per cent from 2011.

That number paled, however, beside the 3 million Chinese tourists who visited South Korea in 2012.

The flow of Chinese tourists entering North Korea may have stagnated or shrunk in the years since. Tensions between China and North Korea heightened after Kim took power in 2011.

Yet an improved relationship between the countries, and Pyongyang’s pledge to give up nuclear tests, have offered fresh hope of an upturn to Chinese tourism industry insiders.

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“The situation on the Korean peninsula has become quite subdued, for the first time in many years,” said Meng Fanying, head of the tourism bureau of Changbai Mountain protection development management committee. Changbai Mountain, known in North Korea as Mount Paektu, sits on the border.

“This year will definitely be a good year for the tourism business of Changbai Mountain,” Meng said. “There were around 2.3 million tourists travelling to it last year, and we have estimated at least 20 per cent growth in the number of visitors this year.”

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Tourism provides an important source of foreign currency revenues for Pyongyang, and China is a major tourism source market for the country.

But the flow of tourists into North Korea or even in the border area has often been interrupted. It is not uncommon for tour operators in China to suspend services when tensions are high.

Chinese authorities last year temporarily closed parts of the national park in Jilin as fears rose in the region about radioactive contamination, following North Korea’s sixth nuclear test last September.

Meng said that the closed parts of the national park would reopen on Friday.