Pyongyang aims to boost tourism sector

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Pyongyang aims to boost tourism sector

North Korea is capitalizing on tourism in an effort to fill its state coffers.

The country has diversified its tourism industry at a time when Pyongyang faces some of the harshest economic sanctions so far from Washington and its neighbors following its fourth nuclear test in January and subsequent long-range missile test.

Notable examples include the state’s first-ever beer festival and a surf camp.

International travel agencies, including the London-based Juche Travel, have also begun promoting an air show in Wonsan, an eastern port city, scheduled over three days in late September. On the sidelines of the event, North Korea will hold its first-ever national beer festival to showcase some of the nation’s finest brews, according to the show’s official website.

The coastal city of Wonsan has also bolstered its efforts toward becoming an international tourism hub, pushed by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who regularly oversees flight training by the Korean People’s Army at the Wonsan airport. Last year, the regime sought to raise $39 million in foreign investment to fund a new brewery there.

Koryo Tours, a Beijing-based travel agency that specializes in travel programs to North Korea, has dozens of itineraries, including one to the Mount Paektu half-marathon and the Pyongyang International Film Festival. Most of the tour packages cost above $1,650 for four to five nights.

Similarly, a travel agency based in New Jersey, Uri Tours, is attracting Western tourists to a surfing camp on the North’s east coast, which is littered with rocky outposts, despite the fact that American surf culture is still something of an odd concept for local residents.

North Korea’s goal to boost foreign tourism hinges on a need to line its pockets with hard currency in order to prop up its starving economy, further choked by a package of new U.S. sanctions following its two most recent provocations.

Pyongyang claimed that its fourth nuclear test, conducted on Jan. 6, was the successful detonation of a hydrogen bomb. Its subsequent launch of a long-range missile on Feb. 7 pushed tensions on the peninsula to new levels, and resulted in unilateral sanctions from Washington and Tokyo.

Earlier this month, South Korea shut down the jointly run Kaesong Industrial Complex after concluding that the North had been diverting revenue from the venture toward developing weapons of mass destruction.

BY KIM SO-HEE [kim.sohee0905@joongang.co.kr]

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