N. Korea sees 'bright future' in tourism: State media

SEOUL (AFP) - North Korea said on Wednesday that it saw a "bright future" for tourism and would offer more international and domestic flights and open up the sector to foreign investors.

"Abundant in tourism resources, the (North) has a bright future to develop tourism," Mr Jo Song Gyu, director of the International Travel Company, told the state news agency.

The country was making "big efforts" to develop tourism as one of its major industries, Mr Jo said, promising new flights to the capital Pyongyang from China, South-east Asia and Europe.

Hotels in the showpiece capital were being renovated "at the world's level" and new fitness centres and duty-free shops would be built, he said.

Foreigners would also be allowed to run independent business or joint ventures in projects such as resorts, hotels and shops, Mr Jo said.

Overseas companies which invested in the early stages of development would get preferential treatment so that they could begin making profits as soon as possible.

Foreign experts would be invited to help build and manage resorts, hotels and restaurants, he said.

The impoverished nuclear-armed state has recently stepped up efforts to lure more foreign tourists, to try to prop up an economy damaged by mismanagement and international sanctions.

Direct air links with other countries are currently limited, with China the main conduit for most travellers heading to Pyongyang.

Foreign travellers are constantly accompanied by government minders and rarely allowed to speak to ordinary citizens on their own, or to mingle with them.

The North is also far from a cheap tourist destination. The nation, which is strapped for hard currency, charges high prices for everything from beer to accommodation.

Payments must be made in euros and foreigners are not allowed to use the local won currency.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.