North Korea’s tourism industry is on the verge of collapse amid widespread food shortages, according to a report released Wednesday.
North Korea is the world’s only totalitarian country and a global pariah, but tourists have enjoyed unprecedented access to the country since the late 1990s when a tourism boom began, said the Asia-Pacific Tourism Council (APTC).
About 6.6 million North Koreans visited the country last year, the report said.
That number is expected to fall to 2.2 million this year.
North Koreans also rely heavily on Chinese goods, which are banned in the country.
“The North Korean government is working hard to restore its tourism industry and bring back some of its lost jobs, said APTC chairman Peter Lai.
North Korean tourists have come to rely on Chinese food and tourist shops that are closed to outsiders.
Some of those Chinese shops, which include popular markets such as tea stalls, restaurants and boutiques, have been targeted by the North’s military, said Mr. Lai, a retired Australian naval officer who is a professor at the University of Queensland’s School of Oriental and African Studies.
The APTC said in its report that North Korean visitors to China have “stopped coming for most of the past five years” due to the government’s crackdown on foreigners.
APTC CEO Tony Lee said the North Korean authorities were seeking to reinstate a government-run economy by introducing a “special tourism industry” that would focus on “specialized services such as tours, restaurants, entertainment and other speciality goods.”
He said China is the primary source of the North Koreans’ income.
North and South Korea are technically still at war but the two sides have ceased fighting following the signing of a truce in 1953.
North Kwoncheong province in the North is home to a vast, arid landscape with rivers flowing through it and plenty of agricultural land.
Many people are forced to live in shanty towns and small villages that often lack basic amenities.
The South also suffers from severe drought, with an average of 5 million people living in rural areas of the country, the APTC report said, citing a government report.
North Koreas top tourist destination The APCC is also calling for increased international travel and investment in North Korea, citing the country’s growing economy.
The North is the most popular tourist destination for South Koreans, with about 70 percent of tourists coming to the communist country, according the APCC report.
APCC said China and South Koreas had signed a free trade agreement in June and planned to sign another in October. “
We are trying to do everything we can to ensure that Chinese visitors continue to enjoy their experiences in North Korean restaurants and hotels,” Mr. Li said.
APCC said China and South Koreas had signed a free trade agreement in June and planned to sign another in October.
But the South Korean foreign ministry said it was disappointed with the Chinese plan to promote tourism, which it said would hurt the trade and economic ties between the two countries.