North Korea is celebrating a rise in the number of tourists visiting the country, including those coming from Europe.
Without releasing any figures, Pyongyang has said that numbers which were increasing steadily from 2000 jumped sharply after 2009.
According to a report from the Korean Central News Agency, Pyongyang said the rise was fuelled by many attractions including “eye-catching achievements made by the country in the effort to build a thriving socialist nation in recent years”.
It also recognised that, on their return home, tourists were saying positive things about their experiences using social media.
Regent Holidays offers tours to the country and has seen a huge increase in interest from British holidaymakers.
Gillian Leaning, marketing brand manager, said traveller numbers have more than doubled in the last three years from 104 in 2009 to 210 in 2012.
It peaked when, in April 2012, the operator ran four special centenary trips around the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim II Sung.
The operator has expanded its range of tours to cope with demand and this year is also running a Remote North Korea tour which visits the Rajin-Sonbong Trade Free Zone, Chongjin, Kyongsong and Mt. Chilbo.
One of North Korea’s tourism initiatives in 2011 involved a cruise that takes Chinese tourists to a golfing resort called Diamond Mountain. The cruise had previously run from South Korea.
For a decade, the two Koreas jointly operated the Mount Kumgang resort, which is just north of the border and ringed by jagged peaks, but Seoul halted the reconciliation project in 2008 after a North Korean guard shot and killed a South Korean tourist.
One tourist recently returned from North Korea is Swedish photographer Björn Bergman, who spent nine days in North Korea taking pictures that captured the life of locals, despite being under watch from guards.
He said: “My rule as a photographer is shoot first, then ask. The guards were very hostile. At the hotels they told us to stay in and would not allow us to leave without guides. We tried three times but didn't get further than three metres before they told us to go back.”
Another photographer, Jeremy Hunter, visited the country’s Arirang festival, a meticulously-staged event which he was lucky to gain entrance to, but takes place annually in Pyongyang.
Natalie Paris Telegraph.co.uk