The looming summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un on Tuesday has the potential to open up global tourism and foreign investment to North Korea, with little prospect of any profits reaching the North Korean people.
Reports have suggested since the dialogue process began that Kim Jong-un has encouraged Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping and President Trump to consider investing in lavish tourist resorts within his state.
The lush natural landscapes of North Korea – from Wonsan’s beaches to the Pyongyang skyline to the terrific glory of Mount Paektu, an active volcano – lend themselves to inviting travel, particularly from China and other neighboring countries. Yet many remain skeptical that any investment enriching the Kim regime will help reduce the abject poverty the average North Korean suffers, and concerns abound that Pyongyang could use the money to strengthen its ironclad grip on religion, freedom of expression and any political dissent.
Unlike his predecessors, father Kim Jong-il and grandfather Kim Il-sung, dictator Kim Jong-un made his avid interest in attracting tourism to the country well known early in his tenure. In 2013, Kim debuted the massive Masikryong Ski Resort, which official North Korean propaganda described as a feat of the “supreme will of the people” despite widespread hunger and disease that rendered skiing far from a priority of the average North Korean. Two years later, Kim announced that he would launch a campaign to attract up to two million foreign tourists by 2020, when the most common kind of tourist to the country was an elder Chinese communist seeking to relive the glory days of the Maoist era.
While more permissive in allowing Chinese tourists to enter the country, the Kim regime does allow Westerners to see it, but only through restrictive tour programs where a North Korean “guide” stays with each individual at all times, ensuring they do not ask incorrect questions or wander out of the sight of the government. Tour companies like Koryo Tours and Young Pioneer Tours specialize in helping foreigners navigate the process of being allowed in, and organize itineraries once approved. They have not taken Americans since Congress passed a law banning American tourism to the country in 2017.