LONDON- It has a notorious reputation as the most secretive state in the world under the dictatorship of Kim Jong-Un.
But now leisure trips to see the isolated communist country of North Korea are being promoted at World Travel Market, the leading global event for the travel industry.
If you want to run in the Pyongyang Marathon next April, ski on North Korea’s uncrowded mountain slopes, or visit ancient temples, then Experience North Korea has the holiday for you.
Founded three years ago, Experience North Korea works with travel agencies and tour operators around the world to offer North Korean tours.
Shanghai-based Nathalie Armengol, Managing Partner of Experience North Korea, will be exhibiting at WTM in November to meet travel buyers from across the globe to consolidate the firm’s pioneering position in the market and challenge perceptions about the country.
She first visited North Korea as a tourist herself, following a friend’s recommendation.
“We have to admit we were a little bit hesitant at first, but we were blown away,” she said.
“We always joke and say that going to North Korea is like going to another planet. So, effectively, it's the cheapest trip to outer space you can buy.”
She ran in the 2014 Pyongyang marathon, describing it as “the closest I’ll ever get to participating in the Olympics”, as the event included an opening and closing ceremony in a stadium filled with thousands of cheering North Koreans.
Now the firm has the distinction of being the first North Korean specialist to exhibit at WTM, which last year facilitated business deals worth more than £2.2 billion – with Asian exhibitors benefiting from £264 million of business.
Armengol aims to show WTM delegates how travel to North Korea is safe and “very straightforward” – and can be bought by any individual of any nationality, including Americans.
“Images promoted by Western media are not always accurate and are always negative,” she said.
“We can take you there, so that you can form your own opinion: see it for yourself.
“We are very experienced in the B2B sector and understand the needs of the trade.”
Fewer than 5,000 foreigners enter North Korea each year but the country is opening up to more visitors, and promoting travel in different sectors, such as skiing and surfing.
All of Experience North Korea’s trips begin and end in Beijing, where customers obtain their visas, and then flights to Pyongyang are with Air Koryo or Air China.
Other travellers can arrive on flights from Vladivostok and Shenyang, and there are talks about services from cities such as Shanghai.
However, the visa requirements mean Experience North Korea’s customers depart from Beijing, where it has a second office.
World Travel Market, Senior Exhibition Director, Simon Press said: “I am delighted to welcome Experience North Korea to World Travel Market as our first tour operator specialising solely in this enigmatic destination.
“It’s great to see a spotlight turned on tourism in North Korea, as our industry can bring huge benefits.
“I am confident that WTM will help Experience North Korea with its pioneering plans, and ensure plenty of business deals are signed, which will increase the country’s exposure and the number of visitors to possibly the world’s most isolated country.”
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