North Korea looks set to profit from tourism

Luke Graham, special to

The tourism industry in North Korea is beginning to boom, according to research which estimates the secretive Communist state earned between $30.6 million to $43.6 million from tourism in 2014.

Around 100,000 tourists visited North Korea, nearly all of them from China. Just 5,000 came from Western countries, according to the report by Yoon In-ju, a researcher at the Korea Maritime Institute, a think tank based in South Korea.

"North Korea could capitalize on tourism as a growth engine to escape poverty," she told The Korea Times.

The statues of former North Korean Presidents Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il at Pyongyang are a major tourist attraction
Gavin Hellier | Robert Harding World Imagery | Getty Images

North Korea is seeking to grow its tourism industry. Earlier in the year, it was reported that the country wants to attract 2 million visitors a year by 2020. The country has also built several tourist attractions in recent years, including the Masikryong ski resort.

Various travel agents have sprung up to help tourists explore North Korea. One British-run company based in Beijing, Koryo Tours, arranges trips for groups of up to 19 people which cost around 1,300 euros ($1,395).

The company offers several packages allowing visitors to watch of take part in the annual Pyongyang marathon, see the military parades and visit other sites. Tourism in North Korea is still very restrictive: tourists cannot travel around freely and must be accompanied by tour guides and a driver.

South Korea's players toss their Dutch coach, Guus Hiddink, in the air in celebration on June 29, 2002, at the World Cup Stadium in Daegu, South Korea, after their surprise fourth-place finish in the World Cup.
A Dutch coach wants to build a soccer center in North Korea

The figure of $30-$40 million may not seem much, but it is significant considering the small size of the country's economy. The central bank of neighbouring South Korea estimates North Korea's gross domestic product in 2014 was just $30 billion, while other sources think it is much smaller.

For comparison, South Korea's GDP last year was worth $1.4 trillion.

Furthermore, North Korea has a long way to go before it becomes a major tourist destination. Both Singapore and South Korea earned $19 billion each from tourism in 2013, according to statistics from The World Bank.

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