Holiday in socialist fairyland? N. Korea woos tourists
If you’re still looking for somewhere exotic to go this summer and don’t mind a vacation that comes with a heavy dose of socialist propaganda and leader worship, North Korea says it’s just the place for you.
Fresh off a drastic, half-year ban that closed North Korea’s doors to virtually all foreigners over fears they would spread the Ebola virus — despite the fact that there were no cases of Ebola reported anywhere in Asia — the country is once again determined to show off its “socialist fairyland” to tourists.
The focus on tourism is the blessing of Kim Jong Un himself and, in typical fashion, officials have set lofty goals in their effort to please their leader.
About 100,000 tourists came to North Korea last year, all but a few thousand of them from neighboring China.
Kim Sang Hak, a senior economist at the influential Academy of Social Sciences, told The Associated Press the North hopes that by around 2017, there will be 10 times as many tourists and that the number will hit 2 million by 2020.
Pyongyang’s interest in attracting tourists may sound ironic, or even contradictory, for a country that has taken extreme measures to remain sheltered from the outside world.
But Kim said the push, formally endorsed by Kim Jong Un in March 2013, is seen as both a potentially lucrative revenue stream and a means of countering stereotypes of the country as starving, backward and relentlessly bleak.
“Tourism can produce a lot of profit relative to the investment required, so that’s why our country is putting priority on it,” he said in a recent interview in Pyongyang, adding that along with scenic mountains, secluded beaches and a seemingly endless array of monuments and museums, the North has another ace up its sleeve — the image that it is simply unlike anywhere else on Earth.
“Many people in foreign countries think in a wrong way about our country,” Kim said, brushing aside criticisms of its human rights record, lack of freedoms and problems with hunger in the countryside. “Though the economic sanctions of the U.S. imperialists are increasing, we are developing our economy. So I think many people are curious about our country.”
Opponents in the West say tourists who go to North Korea are helping to fill the coffers of a rogue regime and harming efforts to isolate and pressure Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons and improve its human rights record. For safety reasons, the U.S. State Department strongly advises U.S. citizens not to travel to North Korea.
In this July 28, 2014 file photo, North Korean women talk over pots of burning charcoal for cooking seafood on a pier leading to Jangdok Island at dusk, in Wonsan, North Korea, a favorite among North Korean vacationers, and being pushed as a prime destination for international travelers.