North Korea’s Tourism Business: A Grand Initiative in Limbo

North Korea’s Tourism Business: A Grand Initiative in Limbo


Growing the tourism trade has been a excessive precedence beneath Kim Jong Un, not less than up till 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic brought about international disruptions in transnational motion and North Korea closed its borders.

Over the previous decade, North Korea has tried to construct “world-class” trip properties meant to draw vacationers—each overseas and home—as a supply of a lot wanted laborious forex. Amongst many initiatives conceived, the nation has invested closely in growing not less than 4 large-scale vacationer services: the Masikryong Ski Resort, the Wonsan-Kalma Seaside Resort, the mountain resort of Samjiyon, and the Mt. Kumgang vacationer space. Every of those areas has developed at a distinct tempo, and a few stay unfinished or unused for political and/or technical causes.

As North Korea begins to loosen its pandemic restrictions, assessing the present standing of those main tourism initiatives might present some indication of its near-term expectations for resuming tourism as properly.

Masikryong Ski Resort

In December 2013, the Masikryong Ski Resort opened on the base of Taewha Peak in Kangwon Province, as a part of Kim Jong Un’s efforts to convey ski tourism to North Korea. The mission started development and opened inside the identical 12 months—coining the time period “Masikryong pace”—and was designed to be a possible location for worldwide occasions, together with however not restricted to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Masikryong was a part of bigger plans for a Wonsan Particular Vacationer Zone, a large-scale vacationer zone first introduced in June 2014, spanning over 400 sq. kilometers alongside the North’s southeastern coast. This designation included a number of several types of vacationer sights year-round and was meant to be the nation’s high vacation spot for each overseas and home vacationers.

Determine 1. Overview of Masikryong Ski Resort.

North Korea’s Tourism Business: A Grand Initiative in Limbo
Copyright © 2022 Maxar

Though the dream of co-hosting Olympic occasions was by no means realized, Masikryong stays a winter vacation spot for the North Korean elite. Since its opening, the Masikryong Ski Resort has seen little change. Border closures and COVID-imposed journey restrictions restricted exercise and guests for a lot of the previous few years. Nonetheless, regardless of the extra restricted operations, snowmaking efforts have been noticed in November and December for the previous two years, suggesting that not less than some enterprise was ongoing.

Determine 2. Snowmaking exercise at Masikryong Ski Resort.

Copyright © 2018 Maxar

As well as, business satellite tv for pc imagery reveals ongoing development of recent, possible trip condominiums in a small valley adjoining to the resort over the previous 12 months. This seems to sign an expectation that enterprise will choose up within the close to future—whether or not that features a resumption of foreigner-based tourism or just extra visits by North Korean elites is unclear.

Determine 3. New house development seen from July to November 2022.

Copyright © 2022 Maxar

Wonsan-Kalma Seaside Resort

The Wonsan-Kalma Seaside Resort, a five-km stretch of beachfront inside the Wonsan-Kalma Coastal Vacationer space, started in 2014. A brand new airport opened in 2015, however development on the remainder of the location was not noticed till 2018. At the moment, Kim Jong Un’s referred to as for, in his New Yr Tackle, renewed efforts on financial growth initiatives, together with finishing “the development of the Wonsan-Kalma coastal vacationer space within the shortest time period.” Quickly thereafter, a staff’ village appeared close to the airport, and development rapidly ensued. The resort was set to open in April 2020, however has since been delayed a number of instances as a result of criticisms by Kim in regards to the design and high quality of assorted services.

Whereas many of the buildings and venues have been accomplished in report time, there have been a number of experiences of missing ending supplies as a result of worldwide sanctions. It must be famous that no inside views of any of the services on web site have ever been proven in North Korean media.

Building halted in early 2020, coinciding with border closures and the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, the resort has been largely lacking from statements about broader financial plans and priorities.

Determine 4. Overview of Wonsan-Kalma Seaside Resort.

Copyright © 2022 Maxar

Determine 5. Overview of Wonsan-Kalma Seaside Resort on July 4, 2022.

(Picture: KCTV)

Imagery from Might 2022, nonetheless, confirmed a brand new sequence of levees had been constructed, dividing the decrease portion of a river in Wonsan—more likely to stop flooding—and a brand new soccer pitch on the northern finish of the resort advanced.

Two key venues—the water park and a domed stadium—and some extra minor development initiatives, resembling the highest ground of two of the extra spectacular accommodations and the whole elimination of the employees’ villages, stay unfinished.

Determine 6. Unfinished development initiatives at Wonsan-Kalma Seaside Resort.

Figure 6a. Unfinished water park at Wonsan-Kalma Beach Resort. Copyright © 2022 Maxar
Determine 6a. Unfinished water park at Wonsan-Kalma Seaside Resort. Copyright © 2022 Maxar
Determine 6b. Unfinished domed stadium at Wonsan-Kalma Seaside Resort. Copyright © 2022 Maxar
Determine 6c. Building crane seen on unfinished rooftop deck. Copyright © 2022 Maxar
Determine 6d. Unfinished rooftop deck on fake island resort. Copyright © 2022 Maxar


Samjiyon is exclusive from the tourism-focused areas. It’s positioned within the northern a part of the nation and nestled under Mt. Paektu, the legendary birthplace of the Korean folks. Kim Jong Un first visited Samjiyon and made obscure mentions of initiatives within the space in 2013, however the resort city was solely formally opened in December 2019, when Kim touted the world as a “socialist utopia” full with housing, business institutions, and ultimately a ski resort. Now, with development full, the world has been designated as a part of the Mubong Worldwide Tourism Particular Zone.

Determine 7. Overview of Samjiyon Resort Metropolis.

Copyright © 2022 Maxar

The enlargement of the ski resort portion of the town started in 2020, with the addition of two massive accommodations on the base of the primary slope. In comparison with the pace of development of different resort buildings, these have been sluggish to progress towards completion—no Masikryong pace right here—presumably as a result of affect of COVID. To this point, their exteriors stay incomplete.

Determine 8. Lodge development at Samjiyon Ski Resort.

Determine 8a. Ski resort earlier than resort development on February 4, 2019. Picture Pleiades © CNES 2023, Distribution Airbus DS. For media choices, please contact [email protected]
Determine 8b. New accommodations beneath development at ski resort seen on imagery from Might 2020. Picture Pleiades © CNES 2023, Distribution Airbus DS. For media choices, please contact [email protected]
Determine 8c. New resort development full on imagery from October 25, 2022. Copyright © 2022 Maxar

Building of an extra resort advanced atop the primary ski path started round April 2022, the place ending work continues.

Determine 9. Mountaintop lodge enlargement at Samjiyon Ski Resort.

Determine 9a. Copyright © 2021 Maxar; Determine 9b. Copyright © 2022 Maxar

These constructions, nonetheless, don’t communicate of the readiness of the resort to just accept guests, because the city has been open for enterprise since 2020.

Oddly, one of many central marquee constructions within the resort—the hexagon-shaped Mt. Paektu Basic Museum and Cultural Heart—which was inbuilt 2017, is already being razed. The explanations for this are unclear however might embrace poor workmanship, high quality of supplies, and/or engineering design, all of that are widespread issues in North Korean development.

Determine 10. Mt. Paektu Basic Museum and Cultural Heart earlier than and after razing.

Determine 10a. Picture Pleiades © CNES 2023, Distribution Airbus DS. For media choices, please contact [email protected]; Determine 10b. Copyright © Maxar 2022

Unique plans for the resort city referred to as for the enlargement and upgrading of the practice station and upgrades to the airport servicing the resort as properly. The practice station has lengthy been accomplished, however whereas the three,326-meter-long runway on the airport can simply settle for business air visitors, a passenger terminal is but to be added.

Determine 11. Samjiyon airport and practice station.

Figure 11a. Samjiyon airport without passenger terminal Image © 2023 Planet Labs, PBC cc-by-nc-sa 4.0. For media licensing options, please contact
Determine 11a. Samjiyon airport with out passenger terminal Picture © 2023 Planet Labs, PBC cc-by-nc-sa 4.0. For media licensing choices, please contact [email protected]
Figure 11b. Samjiyon train station. Copyright © 2022 Maxar.
Determine 11b. Samjiyon practice station. Copyright © 2022 Maxar.

Mt. Kumgang Vacationer Space

The Mt. Kumgang Vacationer Space has its personal distinctive historical past. South Koreans have been first allowed to go to Mt. Kumgang in 1998, and by 2008, greater than 1.9 million had made the journey. The precise Mt. Kumgang vacationer resort—one of many first large-scale tourism initiatives in North Korea and developed as a joint North-South enterprise—formally opened in 2002 and acquired round 400,000 guests per 12 months.

In 2008, the resort was closed as a result of an incident by which a South Korean vacationer was shot by a North Korean guard. The South Korean authorities banned its residents from visiting the resort till the North agreed to a joint investigation of the incident and offered security ensures for future guests. North Korea rejected these phrases, and the resort remained closed.

Determine 12. Overview of Mt. Kumgang Resort District.

Copyright © 2022 Maxar

Within the following years, most of the buildings beneath development on the time weren’t accomplished; others remained dormant and fell into disrepair. In an sudden transfer, in 2019, Kim Jong Un declared that the South Korean-constructed buildings inside the district can be demolished, complaining that they have been “shabby” and “backward” in design and that the world can be renewed with North Korean designed and constructed services. In a 2020 assertion, a North Korean official said that the plan for the Mt. Kumgang space was to develop it right into a “fashionable and complete worldwide vacationer and cultural space.”

Imagery from April 2022 confirmed the destruction of the well-known Haegumgang floating resort and the ten house buildings positioned on the Diamond Mountain Golf Resort and Spa. The clubhouse and spa constructing on the golf resort, nonetheless, seem untouched. The golf course has deteriorated considerably however stays intact.

On the floating resort, supplies taken from demolition efforts have been positioned in a reasonably orderly trend on the marina adjoining to the resort’s floating base.

Determine 13. Condo buildings razed at Diamond Mountain Golf Resort and Spa.

Determine 13a Copyright © 2021 Maxar; Determine 13b Copyright © 2022 Maxar

Determine 14. Demolition efforts on the Haegumgang floating resort.

Determine 14a Copyright © 2021 Maxar; Determine 14b Copyright © 2022 Maxar

The floating base remained docked on the quay till December 2022, when it was moved out of the bay. It’s unclear whether or not the North Koreans plan to reuse the barge to host a brand new resort, however it’s probably that the saved supplies are meant to be repurposed, maybe for different development initiatives, as experiences have circulated that ending supplies and furnishing are laborious to come back by, given the worldwide sanctions in place.

Determine 15. Razed Haegumgang floating resort faraway from quay between December 19 and December 22, 2022.

Figures © 2023 Planet Labs, PBC cc-by-nc-sa 4.0. For media licensing choices, please contact [email protected]

Little additional exercise was noticed at this resort till early September 2022, when the marquee Kumgangsan Tradition Heart (domed) was razed, and supplies have been faraway from close by accommodations within the downtown space of the resort.

Determine 16. Domed cultural middle in Mt. Kumgang resort district razed.

Determine 16a. Domed cultural middle in Mt. Kumgang resort district. Copyright © 2021 Maxar
Determine 16b. Razed dome seen on imagery from December 2022. Copyright © 2022 Maxar
Determine 16c. Shut up of razed dome. Copyright © 2022 Maxar
Determine 16d. Photographs from Kim Jong Un’s go to to Mt. Kumgang in October 2019. Picture: KCNA

To this point, nonetheless, no efforts towards the development of recent buildings within the space have been noticed.


North Korea’s reopening has been sluggish and managed and is unlikely to vary drastically anytime quickly, given the continuing challenges of COVID-19 around the globe, particularly in neighboring China. When overseas guests could also be allowed to enter once more is particularly unclear.

The earlier emphasis on growing and increasing vacationer websites and the hospitality trade as an entire largely fell off when the pandemic hit, and prospects for overseas guests have been indefinitely halted. Financial priorities in recent times have promoted initiatives meant to enhance the requirements of residing for home constituencies—resembling housing and native space revitalization initiatives—reasonably than for income-generating vacationer ventures.

Trying Forward

Whether or not exercise will choose up at these tourism services within the coming months is unclear. Nonetheless, if it does, it will present not less than one indicator of rising expectations that the nation was opening again as much as overseas guests.

Issues To Watch

  • When will development and/or enlargement efforts that these websites choose again up, and the way rapidly do these efforts transfer ahead as soon as they get underway?
  • Will language about tourism and vacationer initiatives be revived in state rhetoric about financial plans and priorities?
  • Will inside images of the Wonsan-Kalma Seaside Resort be featured in North Korean state media?
  • When will development of recent services, reasonably than simply the demolition of previous buildings, start on the Mt. Kumgang Vacationer Resort?

Information Sources 

kml DPRK Tourism Replace

shp DPRK Tourism Replace

The Stimson Heart and the Nationwide Geospatial-Intelligence Company partnership makes use of unclassified imagery and information to provide new, well timed, and correct reporting on the North Korean economic system. For more information, learn the Tearline Undertaking Explainer.

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This content material additionally syndicates to the Workplace of the Director of Nationwide Intelligence’s web site, which is a transparency effort to raised clarify sure strategic and humanitarian IC missions to the general public.