Pyongyang to entice tourists with promises of spa therapies and cataract surgeriesNorth Korea is looking at medical tourism to generate much-needed foreign currency next year, targeting Chinese visitors with a variety of treatments like spa treatments, cataract surgery and dental implants.
A Chinese state-run outlet, the Global Times, reported through its Pyongyang correspondent on Monday on North Korea’s ambitious development plans to build a vast medical tourism program, but noted with caution that the process was still in its infancy.
According to the report, among the various medical tourism packages offered by a new “Treatment Tourism Exchange Corporation” launched by North Korea on Dec. 6, spa treatments in the country’s numerous hot springs are being heavily promoted.
In a report from earlier this month, the North’s state newspaper Rodong Sinmun said the country’s new tourism agency would operate clinics near various hot springs in South Pyongan, South Hwanghae and Kangwon Provinces, which it said has mineral-rich water good for treating muscle pain, arthritis and various skin conditions.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un personally cut the ribbon at a building completion ceremony on Dec. 7 at the Yangdok Hot Spring Cultural Recreation Center, state media said, underscoring Kim’s keen interest in ambitious tourism development projects across the country.
“The hot spring resort is a combined hot spring therapy facility and multi-functional sports and cultural complex conducive to promotion of the people’s health and their leisure activities,” an English-language report from the official Korean Central News Agency read.
In addition to attending the completion ceremony, Kim visited Yangdok on four earlier occasions, prodding officials to finish the building project as soon as possible in order to open the facility for foreign tourists by this winter.
The Global Times report also mentioned the myriad of medical treatment opportunities available for foreign visitors at special hospitals in Pyongyang, which include cataract surgeries, dental implants and tumor treatments.
After Kim laid out a new strategic line of “socialist construction” in April last year, the North’s tourism industry has rapidly developed, having received over 200,000 foreign visits based on statistics from North Korea’s tourism agency, the report said.
This year, North Korea may have generated up to $175 million in profit thanks to the approximately 350,000 Chinese tourists that visited the country, according to a New York Times report earlier this month.
Private tourism remains one of the few avenues unblocked by international sanctions through which North Korea is able to generate foreign currency, and Kim has emphasized the industry’s importance countless times as his negotiations with the United States over denuclearization have faltered.
Quoting an international tourism operator that runs tours to North Korea, the Global Times report said many of the Chinese visitors to the country were elderly citizens, who it said could be enticed further by the North’s efforts to expand medical tourism with elements like spa treatments.
The report, however, appeared also to hold reservations about actively promoting medical tourism options in the North, saying that while it possessed “abundant hot springs” that could help develop the industry, foreign tourists are “still exploring” the option of getting treatment in the country.
BY YOU SANG-CHUL, SHIM KYU-SEOK [email@example.com]