Is Tourism to North Korea Ethical?

Guest post time! In light of recent events of the official end of the Korean War, the timing of this post could not be more suitable. Please read this fascinating guest post about North Korean tourism by Lauren from Lauren’s Travel Diary. Whilst the historic meeting of the two Korean leaders is a huge step towards reunification, it is clear there is still a long way to go on the path to denuclearisation. In the meantime, Lauren asks the question whether it is ethical to visit North Korea and to support this repressive regime.

Is Tourism to North Korea Ethical?

In recent years, tourism to North Korea has become a lot more prevalent, attracting the intrepid, the curious and the down-right naive. This raises the question: is tourism to North Korea ethical? It is known that tourist money is paid directly to the government- consequently funding what is probably the worst regime of the last century, as well as nuclear programmes and a secret police. The regime in North Korea is one that is undeniably barbaric; concentration camps, slave labour and death as punishment for even the most trivial crimes. Not only this, the country has shortages of just about everything, from food and electricity, to freedom of speech and human rights. The thought of directly funding such a regime seems unthinkable.

However, the extreme tension between North Korea and the Western World at this point in time is drawing attention and curiosity to the country. The series of missile tests, including the two intercontinental ballistic missiles and the nuclear test in the second half of 2017 have perpetuated high levels of interest. It certainly seems strange that tourists would pay to visit North Korea, when so many North Korean citizens have risked their lives, and the lives of their family, to escape the country.

Controversially, I personally believe that isolating North Korea by stripping it of exposure to foreign tourists would be detrimental. You see, North Koreans are segregated from the outside world. The government blocks all outside communication, including foreign news, most literature, films and social media; if tourists stop visiting the country, their exposure to the outside world would be completely cut off. If good diplomacy is ever to occur from North Korea’s side, it is important to encourage exposure to foreign tourists, as interactions from tourists help to build trust, and consequently, peace and progression. The North Korean regime is unlikely to change without instigating change.

I have to admit, I visited North Korea myself back in August, and there were occasions during this trip where I began to question my moral compass. Knowing what I know about the state of North Korea, I felt infuriated when faced with highly exorbitant museums and hotels. The magnificence of some of these buildings were likely for propaganda- to perpetuate the idea that North Korea has great wealth. Furthermore, its estimated that at least 70% of North Korea’s population has an inadequate food supply and are malnourished, yet we were fed 3 lavish meals a day. This really made me think: maybe I shouldn’t be here? Maybe no one should come here? But, cutting off ties would segregate North Korea even more, making misunderstandings and miscommunication a lot more likely, resulting in greater conflict. Communication is essential, as without it, we close off prospects of diplomacy.

Put simply, there is no black and white answer as to whether it is ethical to visit North Korea as a tourist. There are arguments for both sides, and it is important to consider your motives if you’re planning on visiting the country. I personally believe that a restricted amount of tourism is helping, albeit a small amount, to break down the barrier between North Korea and the outside world. If we stop visiting altogether, we close off hope of economic and political progression within the country, and we also close off hope at peace and freedom for its citizens.


Is it ethical to visit North Korea? After the official end of the Korean war it is a huge step towards reunification yet there is still a long way to go towards denuclarisation. With this in mind is it ethical to visit this country? To support an oppressive regime? Read this blog post by Lauren from Lauren's Travel Diary to find out her thoughts. #northkorea #mytravelscrapbook #visitnorthkorea

5 Replies to “Is Tourism to North Korea Ethical?”

  1. This is really a thought-provoking piece. I think I’d struggle, as well, knowing that there was a huge gap between the image the country was trying to portray and the reality of its citizens.

  2. I completely agree that there is value to visiting DPRK, and it’s a place I would like to travel to myself one day. However, it’s one of those destinations, like Disney, that you have to take with a grain of salt. Almost everything a visitor experiences there is fabricated, and the local interactions are generally tightly controlled, so a true authentic experience is next to impossible. At least for now.

  3. It’s a tough question to answer, but if the money from tourism is paid directly to such a government, most probably I’d refuse to go.

  4. Although we would be curious to visit North Korea someday, it’s probably not on the top of our family’s travel list just yet.. Hopefully, there’s not as much internal conflict in regards to visiting this country in the future, once basic needs shortages and other concerns are addressed.

  5. Thank you for this thought-provoking piece! I have questioned myself a hundred times if I should visit North Korea and would that me ethical? You’re right it’s no black and white. I believe we, travelers, should not restrain from visiting the state, as we can be the ambassadors of goodwill and positive change in the world. Even if it looks like we’re contributing to a regime we don’t approve short-term, in the long-term we might be the trigger that was missing in supporting basic human rights and improving the situation.

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