Surfer tourism is on the rise in North Korea, raising questions about whether vacations are the best way to relate to the isolationist country. For the past three years, New Jersey-based Uri Tours has brought groups of foreigners into North Korea to enjoy the beaches and experience this sliver of life there. US travel to North Korea has halted following the death of Otto Warmbier, though the future of US-North Korea relations remains extraordinarily unclear.
Uri Tours is not the only company bringing surfers to North Korea, a fact that supports Kim Jong Un’s significant push toward building the North Korean economy through tourism. Kim is attempting to build a reported “tourist zone” surrounding coastal Wonsan.
Critics of the trips point to North Korea’s human rights record and horror stories like Warmbier’s. There’s also the fact that a single Uri tour is estimated to cost more than the average North Korean citizen makes in a year. On the other hand, many are supportive of coaxing North Korea out of isolation, and tourism could be a bizarre, if useful, instrument of that process.
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