A leading tour operator in the UK to North Korea has reported a huge surge in interest in trips to the country, despite rising tension in the region.
Kim Jong-un's government has made increasingly bellicose threats to deploy nuclear missiles in a conflict with South Korea that threatens to draw in China and the United States.
But Regent Holidays, the Bristol-based company that pioneered trips to North Korea, has recorded a 400 per cent increase in inquires from people wanting to get an inside take on one of the few remaining hardline communist regimes in the world.
Gillian Leaning, Regent’s Marketing Manager, said that the response showed that whether a country was in the news for good or bad reasons, people become more interested in it.
“Most of the people getting in touch with us are new to North Korea,” she said. “They have heard about it on the news and probably Googled it and have then seen that you can actually go there. It’s not a country that is usually on the travel radar but for some, it is now. People are curious to see how the news is portrayed there.”
Ms Leaning said some of Regent’s clients booked on trips to North Korea had called to see if the tours would go ahead, but said that no-one had cancelled after being told that they would.
Despite the escalation of the war of words, including the movement of nuclear missiles and declarations by North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un that the country is in a “state of war”, the Foreign Office has not changed its position on travel to North Korea. In its latest advisory, updated today, the Foreign Office says:
“The government of the DPRK (North Korea) has made a number of statements which have increased tensions on the Korean Peninsula. These statements follow a satellite launch in December 2012 and suspected nuclear test this February. The FCO assess that there is currently no immediate increased risk or danger to those living in or travelling to the DPRK as a result of these statements.”
Regent Holidays has been sending people to North Korea since 1985 and currently sends about 200 people a year. Tours are highly regimented with very little chance for independent exploration and strict rules have to be observed on what can and cannot be photographed.
Most tours are centred around the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, the DMZ (demilitarised zone on the border with South Korea) and visits to the Arirang Mass Games.
Ms Leaning said there had been previous cases of what she termed “posturing” but that it not led to the cancellation of any tours in the last 10 years.
“We were discussing the issue of travel safety [in the office] today,” she said. “We turned the question on its head – is anybody asking if it’s safe to travel to North America?”
Adrian Bridge Telegraph.co.uk