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North Korean holidays? Totalitarian state reaches out to Swiss tourists

A holiday fair in the Swiss capital is promoting an unusual destination: North Korea, a totalitarian state better known for its human rights abuses than its tourism industry. (SRF/swissinfo.ch)

The organisers of the Bern Holiday Fair have invited a delegation from the North Korean tourism ministry, in the hope that promoting holidays there will help to encourage openness in the notoriously secretive society.

Tourism in North Korea is highly controlled by the government, which is one of the reasons not many people go there. It’s estimated that 3,000-4000 western tourists visit the communist state each year. 

Since December 2013, North Korea has been open to tourists during the winter. The Masik Ryong ski resort outside Wonson City in Kangwon province opened in 2014. Other “prestige projects” have popped up largely in the capital, Pyongyang, such as the Munsu Water Park, the Rungna Dolphinarium and the Kaeson Fun Fair.

Human rights organisations disagree with giving North Korea a platform for promoting itself. Amnesty International fears the country’s alleged human rights abuses, as highlighted in a 2014 United Nations report, will be swept under the carpet. 

But the trade fair organisers insist that politics should not stand in the way of people’s desire to visit the country and meet its people.

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