Just how big is the North Korean tourist industry?

North Korea has a surprisingly wide tourism industry but America could ban citizens from visiting

It's believed Americans make up just 1% of foreign tourists in North Korea

Friday, July 21, 2017

It seems almost certain that Donald Trump will ramp up his strong-arm campaign against North Korea by banning US citizens from travelling to the hermit kingdom.

Two companies which organise trips from the US to North Korea, Young Pioneer Tours and Koryo Tours, claim the ban is to be announced on July 27 and will then begin 30 days later. And they have it on good authority, having been informed of the ban by the Swedish embassy, which conducts affairs on behalf of the US in Pyongyang.

But just how big an impact will this have? And how hard will North Korea be hit by the decision?

Well the number of people who visit North Korea might be higher than you think Simon Cockerell, who represents the Koryo company in Beijing, says that between 800 to 1,000 Americans visit North Korea every year.

Yet, in comparison to other countries, North Korea's share of the US tourism market is tiny. To put the figures into contrast, Mexico received 26 million visits from Americans in 2013, followed by Canada with 15 million, the UK with 3.5 million and the Dominican Republic with 2.2 million. So it's fair to say the average American won't be too affected by Trump's latest travel ban.

Furthermore, it's hard to see the North Korean tourist board (if such a thing exists) being too fussed about the US ban. Around 6,000 Westerners visit the reclusive country every year, so US tourists represent only a sixth of this particular pie. And this number pales into insignifance against the number of people who visit North Korea from neighbouring China; t's almost 10 years since Beijing made North Korea an approved tourism destination, and Chinese people are fascinated by the beguiling mystery of their maverick neighbour. Last year North Korea allowed Chinese tourists to visit without passports, only increasing the volume of traffic.

In 2014 it was estimated by a researcher from a think tank in South Korea that the North earned between £23.5 million and £33.5 million from tourism. It certainly isn't a huge amount - by comparison, Visit Britain claims the UK generates £106 billion from its overseas visitors - but it's not to be sniffed at, and the industry will be robust enough to withstand the loss of US business.