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Visiting North Korea raises many dilemmas for people from an ethical perspective highlights Tad Farrell, the founder of NKnews. Commentators and observers have often criticized the tourist program of North Korea. In doing so, they tend to make the following arguments: one, that it supports a dictatorial regime with money and their oppressive activities, and two, that it finances North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

Consequentially, the subject of visiting North Korea has became a controversial and interesting element of public debate. This given debate reached its height notably in late 2013 when former NBA star Dennis Rodman famously visited the country, an episode which attracted worldwide media attention.

Visit North Korea as a campaign is not neutral on this debate. Whilst it respects people's personal ethical choices, it fundamnetally rejects these arguments charged by critics against tourism to North Korea. Whilst every single person has the right to follow their own ethical path, Visit North Korea believes that the arguments posed against tourism in North Korea are fundamentally flawed, and, consequentially the benefits of such a visit (for both the tourist and the nation) far outweigh the costs (which have been overhyped grossly).

Does Tourism support the regime's activities?[]

This is the strongest claim made, as elaborated by Melanie Kirkpatrick in Washington D.C. She argues "foreign visitors to North Korea are complicit in the evil perpetrated by the Kim family regime. They are helping to prop up the regime, thereby prolonging the suffering of the North Korean people... A foreigner’s dollars and euros help sustain such activities".

This is misleading. First of all, this argument assumes that the North Korean regime is completely dependent upon the money of tourists to pursue its agenda, it is not, in fact it doesn't even make a difference. Tourism does not act as a serious economic variable in the country and if removed from the equation, nothing in the governments activity would have changed.

About 100,000 tourists visit North Korea a year, 4000 or so are westerners. Now, 100,000 may seem like a large number. However, compare it to France, who received 84.7 million tourists in 2013. Even compare North Korea with South Korea, who received 11.1 million tourists in 2012. Those amounts of tourists obviously bring in serious money; north korea's revenue from it will not even match up to a particle of that. Tad Farrell of NK news points out that the revenue from North Korean tourism amounts to 0.001% of their GDP. As tourism is therefore irrelevant in the North Korean economy, there is no link between it and what the government does (which is, as he highlights nothing to do with money anyway), nor can it lean upon it for a source of support.

"even if all westerners voted with their feet and didn't visit, it would make no difference to the North Korean government from a financial perspective. As such, weapons programs, prisons and a one party system would continue to exist regardless."- Tad Farrel

The positives tourism can bring to North Korea[]

On the alternative, what if tourism increased in North Korea? Then is it propping it up? It is, but in a different way. More tourism, means more hotels and restaurants, more of these mean more staff, more staff means, more jobs. It also means more tour guides, more cleaners, more staff on sites, more gift shops, and more for local people. Anyone who argues "Your money props up their regime!" seems to believe that all of the revenue must bypass the people 100% and go straight to building bombs. Of course, this argument does stem from the fact that the North Korean government owns and operates the tourist industry. However, the incorrect assumption is the idea that the people will see literally none of that money, not a penny. That's false. Tourism in North Korea, although small, its a source of employment and economic activity! Even if the salaries aren't high, people are employed and people are paid! Also, westerners go there and they tip their guides and drivers. These tips and salaries are spent, it goes into the economy.


"you interact with so many people both directly and indirectly who are supported by your custom. For example, restaurant staff who would clearly find it more difficult without work. We believe supporting tourism is a positive way of spending money and the benefits of visiting and understanding the country and then perhaps helping with aid etc"- Hannah Barraclough, Koryo Tours

Therefore, what you are really doing when you visit North Korea, is empowering ordinary people. The North Korean tourist industry has hotel maids, chefs, guides, cleaners, drivers, receptionists, doormen, people who work on the sites, etc. Your money makes more of a difference to their lives than it will ever towards paying for a bomb. If we boycott visiting North Korea, we effectively put these people out of jobs. Restaurants close, hotels close, sites close... and guess what? The regime is still there! It hasn't gone anywhere, it hasn't been effected at all. Why? because the controversies surrounding the North Korean government have nothing to do with money, it is not about resources, its about a state of mind and normative behaviours.

Thus, if North Korea's ways are a state of mind, how can tourism help that rather than be accused of being unethical? Rather than being a burden, again it is a blessing. Tourism builds openess. North Korea is well known for being the most isolated and mysterious country in the world, it is also well known for "shielding" its people from the outside world and blocking information. If you're coming there as a tourist, even if it is just with guides, other north koreans sharing the hotel and staff, you're interacting with them, you're exposing them to the world. It "helps spread realities about life outside the borders of the DPRK in a real and tangible way. All of these factors will slowly influence the way ordinary North Koreans think about their situation, government, and borders". North Koreans are not robots with no other perpsective at all, they're real people. They are real people with thoughts, feelings and doubts. They are not single handedly "brainwashed" to their regime, less so than you think. They are people like you and me, just placed in a difficult situation. Whilst conditions may render them unable to talk openly about how they feel, that does not mean they do not feel negative things, we must not dehumanize these people. What you are doing by visiting, is planting seeds. By planting seeds, you are slowly changing attitudes and minds. They realize that foreigners are not all evil people, out to destroy them. What you do is transform stereotypes and hostilities into positive, constructive engagements. You are bringing the world to North Korea. It is a trip based on hope, not fear.

Conclusions[]

Therefore, it is contended that in reality, the benefits of these so called "objections" to visiting North Korea on ethical grounds far outweigh the costs. Tourism does not curse the North Korean people, it blesses them. Both financially and with an endowment of the wider world. If tourism increased in North Korea, it may even moderate its governments behaviour as they see the potential income opportunities arise from it. We build change through building hope, peace and cooperation. We do not have to worship Kim Jong Un to do that. North Korea should not be dismissed or boycotted, people should learn about it and visit it. Thus, this is why we believe visiting this country is ethical. The benefits outweigh the costs. Your visit, can make a difference. If you don't go on ethical grounds, then your visit is making no difference, so things remain as they are.

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This article is part of the North Korean Traveller's Guide


Getting Started: How can I travel to North Korea?- What do I need to bring to North Korea?- My tour guides- Is it ethical to Visit North Korea? - Is it safe to Visit North Korea?- Why Visit in the First Place?- What Rules do I need to follow?-
When in North Korea: Things to do and see- Food and Drink- Hotels- Shopping

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