North Korea seeks $1.5bn to build international tourist resort

While headlines are dominated by escalating hostility between North Korea and the US, it has emerged that the Democratic People’s Republic has recently hatched plans to lure international tourists to a swanky new resort.

The isolated regime of Kim Jong-un wants to turn the east coast city of Wonsan into "the Pearl of the East" to boost tourism, and hopes to attract $1.5bn in international investment for hotels, offices, apartments and an exhibition centre.

Before this latest dance on the slippery slope of confrontation with the US, North Korea announced plans for the "Wonsan-Mount Kumgang International Tourist Zone" in 2014, and set up the Wonsan Zone Development Corporation to carry it out.

A ground-breaking ceremony for some residential units was carried out with great pomp in May 2015 (pictured below).

A groundbreaking ceremony for Wonsan’s first tourist developments, carried out in 2015 (DPRK)

Now, according to a Reuters special report, the zone includes 40 historical relics, 10 sand beaches, 680 tourist attractions including mineral springs, bathing resorts and lakes. As part of this development the Masikryong Ski Resort was built in 2016 and a $123m golf course is planned outside the city.

The report adds that earlier this year, Kim sent 16 of his officials to the Marina d’Or resort in Benidorm, Spain, to seek inspiration for Wonsan. A spokesperson for Terra Mitica tourist attraction said the North Koreans were impressed by its themes including the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece and Rome.

The Naenara website, which presents North Korea’s view of the world to an international audience, reported in 2015 that the Workers’ Party of Korea’s plan to turn Wonsan into a "world-famous tourist city" was a "lifetime wish" of the country’s previous rulers, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

Wonsan is opposite Pyongyang on the east coast of the Korean peninsula (Creative Commons)

The aim is to attract foreign investment for a combination of tourist, finance and trade facilities.

The first 10 projects, announced in September 2016, included a 15-storey international finance complex, a department store, a three-star hotel, a gymnasium and a restaurant for world cuisine. An international airport has been built, but has not yet opened.

Future projects include an "ultra-luxurious five-star hotel", an international exhibition centre and a library. 

The Wonsan zone is not the only tourist development project in the Democratic People’s Republic. Another development area is the Sinphyong Tourist Development Zone, midway between Wonsan and Pyongyang. This is a mountainous area where "crystal water stream along the valleys and spectacular waterfalls add beauty to the zone", in the words of Naenara.

Despite the natural attractions of the Wonsan area, the plan faces formidable obstacles.

As well as the sanctions regime – which would rule out joint ventures with the Korean state – and the regular exchange of blood-curdling threats between Kim and President Trump, the North Korean brand is not particularly attractive to a mass-market in east Asia or beyond.

But those in search of adventure holidays, or looking for memorable anecdotes to tell their friends, may be more conducive.

Main image: Another kind of slippery slope: The Masikyrong ski resort (

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