One holidaymaker said, “I really want to go there because it’s probably the most closed place where you have the opportunity to do this.”
The first group of tourists allowed into North Korea since the start of the pandemic will shortly arrive into the isolated country.
Though Russians are banned from entering most European countries for tourism purposes, due to the invasion of Ukraine, North Korea has made an exception.
The Russian tourists will visit the capital Pyongyang and then go skiing, says Inna Mukhina, the general director of the Vostok Intur agency which is running the tour.
In October, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he would recommend North Korea as a holiday destination for Russian tourists, many of whom now struggle to travel to Europe and the United States because of sanctions applied to Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.
Is North Korea a popular holiday destination?
There are “lots” of people who wanted to come on the tour to North Korea, says Mukhina, adding that the group is made up of people from across Russia.
She also said that children from a Russian school that aims to create Olympic champions are part of the group.
The Russians’ reasons for visiting North Korea vary, Mukhina says, suggesting some people are interested in the opportunity to visit a closed country, while others are more interested in skiing and snowboarding.
“We love skiing,” Galina Polevshchikova told the AP at Vladivostok airport shortly before getting on the flight to Pyongyang. “I really want to go there because it’s probably the most closed place where you have the opportunity to do this,” she said.
The group, is not a traditional tourist group, but “a test tour delegation” that could pave the way for other groups of Russian tourists.
What will the tourists do on the trip?
According to a report from Tass, Russia’s state news agency, the group will visit monuments in Pyongyang such as the Tower of Juche Idea, named after the North’s guiding philosophy of “juche” or self-reliance.
The tourists will then travel on to the North’s Masik Pass on the east coast, where the country’s most modern ski resort is located.
“In (Masik Pass), you will find yourself in a real paradise for winter sports lovers!” the Vostok Intur agency’s website gushes. “Here you will find incredible slopes with different levels of difficulty that will satisfy the needs of both experienced skiers and beginners.”
How much does a skiing trip to North Korea cost?
The package for the upcoming Russian tour costs about €700 per person, according to Tass and the tour agency.
Why is North Korea opening up to Russian tourists?
North Korea has been slowly easing pandemic-era curbs and opening its international borders as part of its efforts to revive its economy devastated by the lockdown and persistent U.S.-led sanctions. In August, South Korea’s spy service told lawmakers that North Korea’s economy shrank each year from 2020 to 2022, and that its gross domestic product last year was 12% less than in 2016.
Despite the opening of the border, the trip was still a surprise to Asia observers, who had expected the first post-pandemic tourists to North Korea to come from China, the North’s biggest diplomatic ally and economic pipeline.
Hence, the tour underscores deepening cooperation between Moscow and Pyongyang, following a meeting last September between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin at a cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East.
The Kim-Putin summit deepened global suspicions that North Korea is supplying conventional arms to Russia for its war in Ukraine, in return for high-tech Russian weapons technologies and other support.
Tass reported that the trip was arranged under an agreement reached between Oleg Kozhemyako, governor of the Primorye region, and North Korean authorities.
Kozhemyako traveled to Pyongyang in December for talks on boosting economic ties as part of a flurry of bilateral exchanges since the Kim-Putin summit. Ahead of the trip, he told Russian media he expected to discuss tourism, agriculture and trade cooperation.
The expanding ties between North Korea and Russia come as they are each locked in separate confrontations with the United States and its allies – North Korea over its advancing nuclear program, and Russia over its protracted war with Ukraine.