Chinese agency cancels N. Korean tours

A travel agency based in China announced Tuesday that it has canceled its entire schedule of tours into North Korea, due to the mounting tension on the Korean peninsula. The announcement came hours after the Stalinist state advised foreigners residing in South Korea to evacuate because of the danger of a “thermonuclear war” occurring.

“Because of the situation in North Korea, all tours are canceled from now. We will announce when tours begin again as soon as we get official information from North Korea,” stated Explore North Korea, a travel company based in Dandong, on its Facebook page.

The company, whose typical customers are from western nations, had five tours scheduled in April, departing April 11, 13, 15, 17, and 20. However, other tour operators said they will continue conducting normal business.

Andrea Lee, CEO of Uri Tours, a U.S.-based travel agency, said the company would lead a tour to the North this week as planned in spite of the tensions.

“We are monitoring the current situation on the Korean Peninsula very carefully,” she wrote in an email. “We are in constant contact with our partners in North Korea, and they have told us that (the North) remains open to tourists and have encouraged us to run our scheduled tours.”

Lee added that the company discussed the situation with officials at foreign embassies in Pyongyang and other Westerners on the ground in North Korea.

“I feel cautious, but confident that the situation is safe for tourists at the moment. Granted there is more tension than usual, but to a certain extent, we deal with this every year during the joint US-South Korea military exercises,” she said.

Lee added there had been cancellations because of the tensions, but that increased interest in the North this year would “balance out” any losses.

Other tour operators, Koryo Tours and Young Pioneer Tours, also said they have no immediate plans to suspend their scheduled tours, according to NK news Tuesday, a media outlet in the United States that specializes in North Korean stories.

Meanwhile, AFP reported Wednesday that a border crossing between the North and China was closed to tourist groups, while business travel was allowed to continue.

A Chinese official at the Dandong Border Office was quoted by AFP as saying, “Travel agencies are not allowed to take tourist groups to go there because the North Korean government is now asking foreign people to leave. As far as I know, business people can enter and leave North Korea freely.”

Previously, Korea Konsult, a tour agency based in Sweden, said that all tours in April will be suspended because the Swedish Foreign Ministry issued a travel advisory warning against tours to the North.