Since the ascent of Kim Jong-un, North Korea has been hoping to develop a more substantial tourism industry, particularly on the country’s east coast. The Wonsan-Kalma coastal area is already a relatively important tourism destination within North Korea, of course, it’s unknown exactly how many domestic and international tourists visit the area. According to North Korean state media, the government plans on building a tourist resort in the Wonsan-Kalma coast area, but there have been few details about how these plans have developed. However, the recent summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore seems to have prompted at least one request from a North Korean official for U.S. investment in the Wonsan-Kalma coastal area as a reward for denuclearization.
The Kim-Trump summit seems to ignited hopes that the United States will invest in North Korea’s tourism industry
Foreign investment may be the quickest path for North Korea to develop it’s still nascent inbound tourism industry, and a desire for economic development may prompt the state to give up some control. The tourism sector is largely nonstrategic in nature. Allowing at least some foreign involvement in tourism likely not as unpalatable for the state as compared to industries with importance in regards to national security, like heavy industry or mining.
The development of the North Korean tourism industry is not a new phenomenon. Explore DPRK, a state tourism organization, even has an official Facebook page promoting North Korea as a tourist destination internationally. The hermit kingdom traditionally has primarily welcomed tour groups, mainly from China. These tourists have served as a valuable source of foreign currency, as the country is largely unable to access the global financial system due to sanctions.
The new Wonsan-Kalma represents an increased focus on tourism as a means of economic development, or at least revenue for the state. According to promotional materials for potential investors from 2015, authorities are hoping to invest $7.8 billion by 2025 and attract one million foreign tourists. The opening for the new resort is set for April 15, 2019, the 107th anniversary of the birth of North Korea’s first Supreme Leader Kim Il-sung. The apparent focus of the resort will be domestic tourists, according to the latest statements from state media.
The North Korean government is hoping to attract $7.8 billion in investment by 2025 and attract one million foreign tourists
However, in the past, the project has been promoted as catering to both international and domestic tourists. This would also fit into the tentative plans of the North Korean government to open up North Korea economically, at least to an extent. Given the proximity of the resort to the DMZ, it’s possible that it could serve as an attraction for South Korean tourists, as sites in the area had previously allowed limited South Korean tourism. Of course, North Korea’s primary source of foreign tourists is China, and it’s hard to imagine a tourism push in North Korea that doesn’t cater to Chinese tourists.
Not only is China a much bigger source market than any other neighbor, but the two countries have maintained close economic and diplomatic ties. It’s unknown how many tourists China sends to North Korea. The latest known figures are from 2012, when North Korea attracted 237,000 Chinese tourists.