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Chinese tourists curious to see the ‘real’ North Korea

Chinese tourists curious to see the ‘real’ North Korea

Chinese tourists visit North Korea because they are curious about their “mysterious” southern neighbour, and want to see the reality of people’s lives under dictator Kim Jong-un for themselves, a study by a University of Waikato PhD student has found.

Tourism Management PhD student Fangxuan Li, 25, has been awarded a $1,000 prize for best paper at the 18th Annual Waikato Management School (WMS) Student Research Conference, held on 12 June.

North Korea receives around 100,000 foreign visitors a year, 80% of whom are Chinese. Fangxuan’s study looks at Chinese tourists’ perceptions of North Korea, and their reasons for wanting to visit the isolated country.

In recent years, North Korea has been actively trying to promote its highly controlled tourism industry to wealthy foreigners. Last year the government opened a new luxury ski resort in the Masik Pass, although foreigners are still heavily restricted in their movements.

Fangxuan grew up in the Chinese border town of Dandong and could see North Korea out of his bedroom window. “My grandfather fought in the Korean War in the 50s, so I’ve heard a lot of stories while growing up,” he says.

Many Chinese tourists want to know the ‘real truth’ about North Korea, or to seek out potential business opportunities, his research found. During their trip, they are keen to sample traditional Korean food; visit Mt Kumgang National Park; see historic war monuments; and go to the famous Arrirang Festival.

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Overall, they perceive North Korea as an attractive tourism destination with an unspoiled natural environment, which is relatively cheaper to visit than many other countries.

Having visited the country three times, Fangxuan says: “It’s a really, really poor country and there are political slogans everywhere. Their economic situation is not good, so they want more people to come and bring foreign currency with them. But North Koreans are very proud of their country and their leaders.”

His study found that elderly travelers have a nostalgic view of life in North Korea as being similar to that of China during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 70s. “But for younger people, there are too many limitations placed on them over there, and they don’t like it.”

Also at the conference, Management Systems PhD student Heidi Lu (University of Waikato) was awarded a $500 prize for best abstract. Her PhD thesis will examine how cloud-based digital technologies can play a greater role in helping authorities to prepare for and respond to natural disaster events, such as earthquakes.

As real-time technologies provide the ability to gather and disseminate information very quickly, this approach has the potential to improve the effectiveness of emergency decision-making, says Heidi.

The annual Waikato Management School Student Research Conference gives postgraduate management/business students from around New Zealand an opportunity to present their research in a friendly, supportive environment, and receive constructive feedback from other students and senior academics.

Other research topics presented by students at the conference included:

• Measuring risk in small business – Samir Harith (Finance)
• The process of intuition for entrepreneurial decision-making – Ana Wang (Strategy and HR Management)
• Measuring sustainability and well-being – Mubashir Qasim (Economics)
• Transcending industrialism to advance sustainability marketing – Long Yang (Marketing)
• Climate risk disclosure reporting in major global companies – Laurence McLean (Strategy and HR Management)
• Communication networks of men with prostate cancer – Dot Brown (Management Communication)


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