U.S. Tourism Companies Offer Vacations In North Korea

An American tourist, jailed by DPRK authorities last year, will face trial for “committing crimes” against North Korea. According to Reuters, 44 year old Kenneth Bae, a U.S. citizen of Korean descent, has been detained by police since arriving in the northeastern city of Rajin on November 3 with four other tourists. 

Bae’s trial comes in the wake of the U.S. and North Korean grudge match. Pyongang’s threat to launch nuclear missiles at U.S. military bases in the Pacific and South has prompted the Obama administration to begin placement of additional nuclear defenses in areas, the administration had previously cut back on.

North Korea’s state run media agency reported that Bae “admitted he committed crimes aimed to topple the DPRK with hostility toward it.”  According to Reuters:

“His crimes were proved by evidence,” it said, adding he would soon be taken to the Supreme Court “to face judgment”. It did not provide further details.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States was aware of reports that an American citizen would face trial in North Korea. She said representatives of the Embassy of Sweden, which acts as the protecting power for U.S. citizens in North Korea, visited Bae on Friday.

South Korean rights workers said that Pyongyang may have taken issue with some of his photographs, including those of homeless North Korean children.

A South Korean newspaper published by an evangelical family said he may have been carrying footage of North Korea executing defectors and dissidents. It was impossible to verify this.

Bae is described as a tour operator from Washington state, but there is currently no indication as to which tourism firm he worked for. Americans can travel to North Korea through U.S. tourism companies like New Korea Tours and Vacation North Korea. “All tours are running as scheduled despite latest political situation,” New Korea Tours says on their website. According to the company, less than 2000 western tourists visit DPRK every year.  New Korea Tours tells potential clients their tourists stay in deluxe class hotels in Pyongang. New Korea Tours highlights DPRK celebrations and sites for tourists to see. 

However, the website notes the stringent North Korean restrictions on video and photography. Additionally, since North Korea does not issue visas to reporters, tourists who agree to go on the New Korea tour cannot write news articles about their trip without the tour company’s “express permission,” saying that “are required to insist upon this by DPRK law. “

New Korea Tours reassures potential clients they will not be “spied on” by the North Koreans, saying:

Despite claims in various newspapers it seems to us (although we don’t know for sure) very unlikely indeed that the Koreans would bug the hotel rooms of western visitors. Paranoid fantasies aside, what can the average visitor possibly have to say that would be of interest to the Korean authorities? if they want to hear a foreign viewpoint on something they can watch BBC World News in the hotel! Nevertheless as in all places in DPRK it is best to restrain your criticisms until having left the country. Phone calls and postcards made and sent from DPRK should be treated as not secure.

Foreigners should expect to restrictions in their movement about the country. Tourists are accompanied by minders very often.  Despite the laws, New Korea tours argues that traveling to the DPRK can be a safe experience for Americans.

The DPRK does not appear on any lists of countries where it is dangerous to visit and is probably one of the safest countries in the world you can visit. In over eleven years experience and over 500 tours we have never felt that our groups were in any danger. We have never had any problems with the Korean authorities, experienced any thefts or felt in any way threatened. All of Europe (apart from France) and countries such as Canada, Australia etc. have diplomatic relations with North Korea and they support tourism. We are always welcomed by the Korean people and are seen as guests in their country. Certainly if you are willing to smile and be courteous you will receive a very positive response. It is one of the last places on the world where there are virtually no visitors and you can have a big impact on whom you meet. 

North Korea has detained Americans of Korean descent over the years and have used their imprisonment to persuade visits to their country from powerful American figures like former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.