North Korea announced plans on Thursday to create a tourism zonenear a resort it recently expropriated from a South Korean firm that had temporarily shuttered it following an incident involving a communist soldier.
The Hyundai Asan group, which began ushering curious travelers across the border in 1998 after Kim Jong Il's government granted the firm a fifty-year monopoly on tours to the North, was providing a steady stream of much needed foreign capital until a soldier shot and killed a Seoul housewife in 2008.
The former tourist hotspots in and around the Kumgang region have been left empty for years, but there had been hints that the North Korean government might develop the area, including signs showing rather severe looking vacation hamlets. Earlier this year the government started accepting foreign bids to own pieces of the region's tourist infrastructure, but there was apparently little interest.
Strange as it may sound, the communist country has experience in the service sector: The North Korea's chain of Pyongyang Restaurants are basically oppression-themed Olive Gardens that funnel South East Asian currency to the perpetually struggling state. These are the perfect restaurants for those who enjoy waitresses in Bo Peep dresses singing odes to their homeland while serving dog meat.
For the last few years, the state's tourism department has said repeatedly that North Korea would like to host more tourists. A tour company in Shanghai is offering direct flights into the hermit kingdom beginning in July in an effort to capitalize on the country's mystery.
North Korea's main tourist draw has long been the Mass Games, which celebrate the birth of revolutionary leader Kim Il-Sung with a series of choreographed performances by crowds of government acolytes. This year's games, which are set to include roughly 100,000 performers, will begin in the beginning of August.
One site no one is likely to get to see (though not-a-few intelligence officers would love to): The country's much discussed nuclear facilities.
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