March 22, 2011 09:19
An increasing number of Western tourists are visiting North Korea through a British-owned travel agency based in Beijing, AFP reported Monday.
Koryo Tours was established in 1993 by Nick Bonner, a former landscape architect who opened China's first live music club in Beijing. He is helping bring Western tourists to the North in partnership with the North's state-run International Travel Company.
When he launched the company in 1993, he took "an initial group of 12 curious tourists keen for a glimpse inside one of the world's most isolated countries." Some "1,300 hardy travelers" bought tours from his agency last year, Bonner told AFP. That was about 30 percent more than the year before.
Bonner attributed the increased numbers to the opportunity to see a completely isolated country. Among other things, "the real prize" is a visit to the "Arirang" mass calisthenics event, "the world's largest choreographed display of synchronised acrobatics, dance and flip-card displays, involving up to 100,000 people." "The most spectacular event on Earth... a performance... which is only possible in North Korea," a Koryo brochure gushes.
The tours "are not cheap," AFP said. A four-day stay can run about US$1,400 a person, and a five-day stay is $1,900. "Foreign journalists are not allowed on the tours, and American tourists are still banned from exiting North Korea by train to China," it added.
While there are qualms about giving money to a regime universally condemned for rights abuses, one Greek traveler is quoted as saying tourism "could help coax North Korea out of its isolation."
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