At the end of second World War the Korean peninsula was split in two at the thirty-eight parallel. The war between North Korea and South Korea ended in 1953 when an armistice was signed and demilitarized zone (DMZ) was established at the thirty-eight parallel. After the war North Korea practically isolated itself from the rest of the world and adapted the juche ideology, which can roughly be explained as a Marxist-Leninist political model of autonomy and self-reliance.
Tourism is allowed in North Korea and it provides much needed foreign currency, although underdeveloped service sector, inadequate infrastructure and political tensions are stymieing greater tourist. Organized tours are the only way a person can travel to North Korea. Tourists are always accompanied by two government-approved local guides, who will not just work as tour guides but also look after the tourists and make sure they obey all laws and regulations. Unaccompanied individual tours are not possible.
South Koreans, Israeli, American, British and also Japanese people may face difficulties in visiting North Korea. All visitors will need a visa which will only be issued after the tour has been booked, paid for and authorized by North Korean authorities. Journalists will also face difficulties as North Korea do not allow journalists to visit the country on tourist visas.
As North Korea considers all tourism information confidential, very little is known about statistical data. Year 2000 is the latest year for which tourism figures of tourists visiting North Korea are available and in that year some 130 000 tourists visited North Korea. Some 2000 Japanese tourists are visiting North Korea per annum. Other main sources of tourists are Russia, Hong Kong and Macao. North Korea's national airline Air Koryo and Air China are making scheduled flights to Pyongyang from Beijing and Vladivostok.
North Korea has been a member of the World Tourism Organization since 1987 but as North Korea refuses to give statistical tourism information all figures are estimations or outdated. Library of Congress' country profile of North Korea states that by 1999 there were 60 tourist hotels with approximately 7500 beds
Tourists in North Korea do not in general have freedom to choose what they want to do but are rather taken to different attractions by guides. Most common type of transportation for tourists is a tourist bus as tourists are normally not allowed to use any public transportation. Talking to local people is allowed and the guides can do some translating when asked. Mobile phones are not allowed in the North Korea and they will be taken away when entering the country and given back when leaving. Taking pictures is permitted but tourists should be extra careful when taking pictures of statues of Kim Il Sung as all photos should be respectful. Despite the food shortages, visitors should get enough food. Tourists should never, under any circumstances, say anything that could be perceived as an insult to Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, Juche or the North Korean people or government as this would most likely cause serious trouble.
Visiting North Korea would certainly be something different from other holidays but should one really go to see North Korea, that is a very controversial topic. It is true that tourism brings money to North Korea but does the money go to North Korean people or the government? Most, if not all, tourism organizations and agencies in North Korea belong to public sector and are practically run by the government. It is also true that even if one decides to visit North Korea, is the real North Korea that is going to be shown to tourists? Is right to visit a country that suffers from food shortages and eat in local restaurants? These are questions that everyone who is seriously thinking about visiting North Korea should think about first but if any of those is not a problem, North Korea could offer a new and certainly different experience.
Air Koryo, http://www.korea-dpr.com//Air%20Koryo/index.htm, accessed: 21.4.2010
Kim S S, Timothy D J, Han H C, (2007), Tourism and political ideologies: a case of tourism in North Korea, Tourism Management, 28, pp. 1031-1043
Library of Congress - Federal Research Division, (2007), Country profile: North Korea, pp. 1-20
Lonely Planet, http://www.lonelyplanet.com/north-korea, accessed: 19.4.2010
U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs, (2007), Country specific information: Korea Democratic People's Republic of, pp. 1-8
Wikitravel, http://wikitravel.org/en/North_Korea, accessed: 20.4.2010