Tourism to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is being met with a cool response in Beijing, although travel agencies in border cities expect a modest upturn business over the May Day holiday.
Hu Juan, a 27-year old office worker in Beijing, said she had been interested in visiting the DPRK when the country opened to Chinese tourists in 2010, but she gave up the idea after comparing the price of trips to the DPRK and Southeast Asian countries.
"I would like to spend 3,000 to 4,000 yuan ($476-635) to enjoy the sunshine and beaches on a small island in Southeast Asia, rather than experience the tough life in the DPRK," said Hu, who will fly to Malaysia for a holiday.
Some tourism agencies in Beijing have even canceled tours to the DPRK due to a lack of interest.
Tours to the DPRK are "not very popular" among Chinese consumers, said Li Jiguang, deputy general manager of the outbound travel department of China Women Travel Service, which was one of the first travel agencies to offer tours to the DPRK.
Li said the agency has only organized several tour groups to the DPRK since April 2010.
Li added that the price of tours to the DPRK was another factor that put potential customers off.
Tourists also have to comply with some special rules, for example, forbidding the use of mobile phones and taking photos of DPRK citizens, he added.
While some tourism companies are still running tours to the DPRK, they are finding it difficult to drum up interest in travel to the country.
"DPRK business this spring is worse than the past two years," said Zhao Hui, manager of the DPRK and the Republic of Korea department of China Comfort Travel Co Ltd.
The agency failed to organize a tourism group to the DPRK during the May Day holiday, because only 10 people applied for a tour that had 16 places, Zhao said.
In the past two years, the agency has organized groups to the DPRK, but no tours have taken place so far this year, he said.
"I do not know why such a downturn occurred this year. Maybe some recent political and military events in the DPRK scared away travelers," Zhao said.
Some business insiders cited the uncertain situation on the Korea Peninsula after a failed satellite launch by Pyongyang early this month.
However, travel agencies in border cities remain optimistic.
The number of applications for tours to the DPRK during the May Day holiday is stable compared with the past years, said Ji Chengsong, administrative director of China International Travel Service's Dandong branch in Liaoning province, which mainly deals with tours to the DPRK.
The agency will have tours to the DPRK every day in the three-day holiday, but most of the travelers will just take part in one-day visits, Ji added.
In order to attract more tourists to the DPRK, a special train with 100 seats for tourists between Tumen, Jilin province, and Chilbo Mountain, in the northeastern DPRK, will begin running on Saturday.
The first train will take over 60 tourists, and most will come from Tumen as well as Heilongjiang and Liaoning provinces in Northeast China, said Li Changxun, director of the Tumen foreign affairs and tourism bureau.
Li said the authority had already received about 100 applications from across China for tours on the train.
"We are confident about the market," said Chen Haiwei, manager of CITS's Tumenjiang branch, which operates the special train.
Wu Yong and Liu Ce in Shenyang contributed to this story.
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