The North Korean authorities have told Chinese travel agencies that tourists must first purchase tickets to attend group performances in the country before they can receive visas, Daily NK has learned. The development appears to be another move by the North Korean authorities to maximize the profits they earn from the domestic tourist industry as international sanctions continue to impact their foreign currency-earning operations.
“North Korea’s biggest state-run travel agency, the Korea International Travel Agency, sent a message to Chinese agencies on May 24 stating that they won’t be able to obtain visas for their clients until they buy tickets for the mass games,” said a Daily NK source based in China. “This is the first time they have presented such a demand before.”
There has been a dramatic reduction in Sino-North Korean trade in the wake of international sanctions, and North Korean restaurant workers and laborers are returning home from abroad.
Lee Jeong Eun, a research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), published a report in February estimating that North Korea earned around 360 million USD from its tourism industry with around 1.2 million Chinese tourists visiting the country before and after the June 2018 US-North Korean summit, with most visitors spending at least 300 USD per person.
North Korea’s “grand mass gymnastics and artistic performance” are a major tourism drawcard and source of revenue for the regime.
A separate Daily NK source in China also reported that the North Korean authorities have also informed the travel agencies about VIP seats that have not previously been available.
“The message added that there are a small number of VIP seats available,” the source reported. “Chinese travel industry figures are saying that the seats are probably those normally used by high-level officials in North Korea, like Kim Jong Un.”
Some have suggested that the VIP seats are likely located in the “main seating stand” at the center of the stadium where Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae In and their entourage sat when they watched “The Brilliant Motherland” mass gymnastics performance during Moon’s visit for the September 2018 inter-Korean summit. The seats used by Lee Jae Yong, Samsung’s vice-chairman, and other members of the South Korean delegation are also likely to be classified as VIP seats.
“The cost of first-class seats, according to the message, is 4,000 yuan, while second-class seats are 2,500 yuan. Third-class seats are 800 yuan,” the source said, “But it’s not clear how much the VIP seats are yet.”
Koryo Tours, a North Korea-focused travel agency based in Beijing tweeted that the cost of VIP tickets for the show “The Country of the People” is 800 Euros (around 1.07 million won), while first-class seats are 500 Euros, second-class seats are 300 Euros, and third-class seats are 100 Euros.
Koryo Tours focuses on clientele from Western countries, but the same prices likely apply to Chinese tourists as well.