North Korea wants to attract ten times as many tourists to the country in just two years, taking the total to a million visitors.
And by 2020, officials reckon that the self-proclaimed “socialist fairyland” will lure two million people from around the world.
The country currently welcomes 100,000 tourists a year, the majority of which come from neighbouring China. But in a tourism drive sanctioned by Kim Jong-un, this figure will reach one million by 2017 and two by 2020.
For a notoriously secretive country which tends to view travellers from the west with suspicion, these are ambitious targets.
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A beach resort area south of Wonsan, North Korea (Photo: Robert Harding Alamy)
It was only in March that North Korea lifted a four-month international travel ban to protect its citizens from the Ebola virus, yet remains confident of increasing its visitor count by 1900 per cent, according to Kim Sang Hak, a senior economist at London's Academy of Social Sciences.
He told AP that the push was seen as both a potentially lucrative revenue stream and a means of countering stereotypes of the country as starving, backward and relentlessly bleak.
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Speaking recently in the country’s capital, Pyongyang, leader Kim Jong-un said: “Tourism can produce a lot of profit relative to the investment required, so that’s why our country is putting priority on it.
“Many people in foreign countries think in a wrong way about our country. Though the economic sanctions of the US imperialists are increasing, we are developing our economy. So I think many people are curious about our country.”
He brushed away concerns about the country’s human rights record.
A view of North Korea from South Korea, beyond the DMZ (Photo: Getty)
While executions by anti-aircraft gun or falling standards of living are what usually grabs international headlines, the country would rather focus on its ski resorts or sandy beaches.
Only last month, a tour operator launched a holiday package dedicated to the country’s seaside offering.
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The number of Western tourists visiting the country is gradually increasing, though still small and most in carefully coordinated package holidays. The US Department of State “strongly recommends against all travel” to the country, while the Foreign Office warns that “the level of tension on the Korean peninsula can change with little notice” but does not advise against travelling.
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