Secretive state to open its doors to more international visitors by 2020

It might not be completely unfair to suggest North Korea suffers from a bit of an image problem.

The regime’s startling lack of enthusiasm for human rights is well documented. Tales of execution by preposterously violent means are aplenty. The general attitude towards pretty much everyone and thing is dementedly paranoiac, to put it politely.

Occasionally a defector will emerge victorious against ridiculously unfavourable odds and reconfirm to the outside world that life in the world’s most secretive state is indeed quite dreadful.

Still, the tourism board endures, and has been tasked (if there is a god, please help them) with enticing two million annual visitors in the next five years to the self-proclaimed ‘socialist fairyland’ – an aptly surreal description, though it could be argued ‘nightmare’ would have been a better word choice.

Discounting the recently-lifted four month ban on all international visitors (to protect against the Ebola virus) North Korea currently accepts 100,000 tourists per year. In keeping with the general philosophy of the leadership, tours are rigorously regimented, and independent movement is unthinkable, at least for those not aiming for a literal holiday of a lifetime.

Kim Jong-un, himself no stranger to looking at things, confirmed recently that he has seen an opportunity with drawing open the curtain on his family’s hideous creation. Speaking in Pyongyang, he said: “Tourism can produce a lot of profit relative to the investment required, so that’s why our country is putting priority on it.

“Many people in foreign countries think in a wrong way about our country [but] we are developing our economy. So I think many people are curious about our country.”

Whether or not to visit dictatorships in general is controversial. Some argue that the money from tourism simply goes straight into the pockets of the regime, creating an ever wider disparity with the disenfranchised population at large. Others argue that while this may be the case, tourism brings awareness, and the more international scrutiny there is, the more likely the regime will feel the pressure to reform.

The UK Foreign Office does not currently advise against travel to North Korea.