Visiting North Korea as a tourist is not something many people have ventured on. Although getting accurate estimates is difficult and different sources offer different numbers, before the Covid-19 pandemic the country reportedly welcomed about 120,000 Chinese visitors per year and an additional 5,000 visitors from Western countries.
The state was not very open to the world even before the pandemic, but it is furthermore among the last nations to start reopening borders after the pandemic. In August, the first commercial flights to leave North Korea in over 3 years departed Pyongyang, one headed to Beijing and another headed to the Russian city of Vladivostok.
These first signs of reopening have led tour operators to speculate, or rather hope, that more measures will soon be announced to once again allow tourists into North Korea, or as it is officially known, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
There’s no Ministry of Tourism. So there’s no high-level government officers or anything like that involved in tourism.Simon Cockerell, General Manager of Koryo Tours
However, speculating and wondering is all they can do. North Korea is not exactly known for openly transmitting any official information. Further lacking a government body designated for tourism makes matters even more uncertain for the industry. “Imagine a company with no access to its market with no customers and no income for three and a half years. That’s how difficult it’s been”, Simon Cockerell, general manager of Koryo Tours, a China based tour operator organising group trips to North Korea, told CNN.
Besides the lack of any clear timeline for the reopening, there is no indication to what, if any, Covid restrictions will still apply once tourists are allowed into the country again, such as vaccination or testing requirements or mandatory quarantine.
The DPRK’s Covid policy has been so strict that it did not even allow its own citizens to return home for more than three years. North Koreans are finally allowed back into the country as of 27 August, however, are still required to quarantine for one week upon arrival. Whether or not prospective tourists will need to do the same or whether the quarantine requirement will no longer be mandatory by the time the DPRK actually reopens for tourists remains to be seen.