A cruise to the Caribbean? Been there, done that. A grand tour of Europe? Ho-hum. But a trip to North Korea? For a growing number of travellers, that’s indeed the ticket. Despite the fact it’s considered one of the most politically isolated places on the planet, North Korea is becoming something of a tourist hub. The country recently opened a ski resort and welcomed international runners to a marathon, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times. Indeed, the number of Western tourists is up tenfold from a decade ago, according to a CNN report, even if the actual raw figure—6,000 tourists—is still relatively small.
The growth is happening regardless of the reality that North Korea doesn’t have the attractions of, say, Paris. Or that it’s a place where visitors can sometimes end up in jail: Consider the case of the two imprisoned Americans who were finally freed this weekend. It’s for such reasons that the U.S. State Department advises Americans not to visit. So, what’s driving the tourism boom? For most travellers, it’s the prospect of seeing something that so few others have. And those who make the trek say the county has its fascinations—precisely because of its isolation. North Korea is a “country as closed off to the world and as secretive as they come, keeping both the outside world and its own people completely in the dark about one another—a true hermit kingdom,” wrote blogger Tim Urban about his visit in 2013. Which is not to say that travel is easy in North Korea.
As Urban pointed out, he and his group weren’t exactly free to roam the country (three tour guides accompanied them). In fact, as Urban noted, most visitors are required stay at the same hotel, which is situated on an island in the capital city—the location naturally makes it difficult to get away. But perhaps North Korea isn’t aiming to attract travellers like Urban. The country’s real aim is to apparently market itself to the Chinese: More than 200,000 visitors from China came in 2012.
Originally posted on MarketWatch: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/who-needs-paris-north-korea-is-now-a-tourist-hub-2014-11-09