“We haven’t experienced any change,” said Andrea Lee, president and CEO of Uri Tours, which specializes in bringing tourists to North Korea. “They have been encouraging us to bring in more people.”
Ms. Lee said about 2,000 to 3,000 Western tourists visit North Korea each year and that the level is rising, though the recent tensions have sparked a significant number of cancellations. Air Koryo, North Korea’s flag carrier, announced it is planning to add more regular passenger flights to and from Beijing, another sign that Pyongyang — while certainly not ready to throw open its doors — wants to make it easier for tourists to put North Korea on their travel itineraries.
“I never considered canceling,” said Sandra Cook, a retired economics professor from Piedmont, Calif., who planned her trip in November, before the tensions escalated. “I think it is a particularly interesting time to be here.”
With Ms. Lee as her guide, Ms. Cook and several other Americans and Canadians toured the North Korean side of the DMZ, Kaesong and a collective farm. She said that aside from the North Korean DMZ guides’ harsh portrayal of the “American imperialists’” role in the Korean War and on the Korean Peninsula today, she was surprised by the seeming calm and normalcy of what she has been allowed to see.
“The whole world is watching North Korea, and there we were yesterday peacefully strolling along the river in the sunshine. It’s surreal,” she said. “If you didn’t know about the tensions, you would never know it. You would think everything is fine. The place feels so ordinary.”