CHINA’S almost complete reopening to foreign tourists has created excitement in the industry — and raises the tantalising possibility of North Korea following in its wake.
Sadly, this is unlikely to happen any time soon. This is the shared opinion of tourism chiefs within North Korean and abroad.
To read about China opening for tourism click here.
In January 2023, China slowly started to reopen after dropping its zero-Covid policy. The initial process was strictly limited and did not include tourists.
This has since developed, and China has now indicated that it will process “all types of visa”. This will include people whose visas expired after March 2020, as well as open up previously visa free places, such as the island of Hainan.
Within hours of this announcement, Young Pioneer Tours received more than 100 enquiries from people wishing to visit North Korea. Many seemed to assume that where China led, the DPRK was sure to immediately follow. Alas, this is not the case.
North Korea unlikely to be reopening to tourism
Simply put, no one knows when the country will again welcome visitors. Such decisions can come as bolts out of the blue — as when the government slammed the doors shut over fears that the Ebola virus would sweep the world.
However, we are not expecting any sudden changes in the foreseeable future.
We are in regular touch with out North Korean partners in both Beijing and Pyongyang — especially at times of news such as this. In their opinion, the DPRK is not due to open imminently and even the most optimistic of them don’t expect any move before next year.
As always, no specific reason was given for this forecast, but these are the people who know better than anybody. When they speak, we listen. Like us, they will be aware that when China ended its zero-Covid policy many people died. The DPRK would be unlikely to risk the health of their citizens for an industry that is only a small part of its economy.
Also China went through a methodical process before welcoming tourists. Initially it ended zero-covid, then it opened its borders to non-tourists, and only now has it started to reopen for tourism.
Until the DPRK embarks on phase one, we can only speculate about phase two, three or four.
What might the DPRK reopening look like?
The first steps of reopening North Korea would see cross-border trade with China and potentially Russia resuming. Should this go smoothly, the government could then consider further steps.
To read how North Korea could take the Vietnamese route to reopening click here.
The next step would be to open for Chinese tourism. This would be in limited areas such as Sinuiju, where contact with locals could be kept to a minimum.
This move will be watched closely by the authorities before any chances are taken with a wider reopening.
Should this happen, it will almost certainly be in the summer months when when viruses tend to be less transmissible. This is unlikely to happen over the coming few months, hence the opinion of our partners that the summer 2024 is the best-case scenario.
However, there is a glimmer of hope that the government could open the Wonsan Tourist Resort or other “ring-fenced” vacation destinations with little risk of creating an outbreak across the country.
In this scenario a “Varadero, Cuba” model could be used, in which tourist workers are kept apart from the general population and airports — currently closed — are used solely for the tourism industry. This may be unlikely, but it’s not impossible.
One thing we have learnt from dealing with the DPRK for more than 15 years is that anything could happen.
Who knows? The doors could suddenly swing open tomorrow, without any hint or warning. While this might seem next to impossible, it is something we are actively planning for, just in case. This was a guest article from Young Pioneer Tours – you can check out their North Korea tours here .