North Korea Welcomes Tourists and Athletes among Threats of War

North Korea seems to be very good at sending mixed messages when it comes to its international policy. Although they make constant statements about the great tension in the area that could easily lead to war, they are welcoming foreign athletes and even focus on boosting tourism. While travelers seem to be well received in the Asian country, would they actually go?


North Korea organized an international marathon  – the 26th Mangyongdae Prize Marathon - as part of the celebrations for late President Kim Il Sung’s birthday of today. The race took place through the North Korean capital Pyongyang on Sunday and had huge crowds – tens of thousands of North Korean spectators - as an audience, hinting that  the country’s fear of an imminent military crisis might not be as serious as authorities declare. Welcoming international athletes from 16 nations and threats of a “thermonuclear war” don’t really go that well together. 

According to officials in South Korea, the United States and Japan, North Korea, who has carried out an underground nuclear test in February is quite to launch a medium-range missile. Yet the Capital’s seems to show no signs of such future outcome.


Yesterday’s marathon did not just attract locals, tourists attended a gala concert featuring ethnic Korean performers from China, Russia and Japan as part of the events for this special birthday, called the “Day of the Sun.”

“The feeling is like, I came last year already, the situation is the same,” said Taiwan’s Chang Chia-che, who finished 15th.

While foreign officials try to understand the country’s intentions, the reality is that North Korea has issued no warnings to ships and aircraft about an imminent missile test and is putting effort into increasing tourism.

“We haven’t experienced any change,” said Andrea Lee, president and CEO of Uri Tours, a travel agency specializing in bringing tourists to North Korea. “They have been encouraging us to bring in more people.”

According to lee, about 2,000-3,000 Western tourists visit North Korea each year and the numbers are currently on the rise. The recent talk of war has lead to many cancelations but Air Koryo, North Korea’s flag-carrier, announced its intention of adding more regular passenger flights to and from Beijing, showing the country’s strategy of making it easier for tourists to include it in their travel plans.

For the time being, the country’s appeal to tourists seems to be stronger than the constant talk of war. But will the numbers keep rising or will fear win over and keep tourists away from this Asian destination? Would you go or choose a different country to visit?


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