Published on : Friday, July 25, 2014
The last Asian country behind the iron curtain, North Korea, announced an ambitious development project for the east coast city of Wonsan that will include the construction of an underwater hotel, according to the state-owned media outlet The Pyongyang Times.
The plan focusing on the construction of infrastructure and buildings basically related to the leisure sector will see Wonsan transform into a “tourist city”. Significant investment in leisure and tourist facilities are becoming a hallmark of Kim Jong-un’s leadership.
“Underwater hotel, flower park, international meeting hall, exhibition and exposition hall, stadium and development areas will be built on the Kalma Peninsula,” the article said, adding that “towers and other modern-style buildings” would be constructed in large numbers in a downtown area.
Andrea Lee of the New Jersey-based state-sanctioned North Korea tour company Uri Tours confirmed the existence of plans to NK News in an email last week.
The emergence of the ambitious Wonsan development plan, reportedly signed in November 2013, comes just two months after World Food Program (WFP) Executive Director Ertharin Cousin told reporters in Seoul that the viability of North Korea aid programmes was being threatened due to a “critical” lack of funding.
“The last thing the hungry people of North Korea need is an underwater hotel that is, at best, years from seeing its first guest,” Joshua Stanton, author of the One Free Korea blog, told NK News.
“North Korea is not a poor country, and hunger there is the direct consequence of Kim Jong-un’s choices,” said Stanton, adding that he was unsure if North Korea was serious about the project, or where the funds for it would come from.
Leonid Petrov, a researcher at the Australian National University (ANU), mocked the contradictions between increased investment in the DPRK tourism industry at a time when North Korea has been simultaneously arresting foreign visitors.
“Underwater hotels are the most suitable form of tourist accommodation for North Korea”, said Petrov. “As a foreign tourist you won’t be able to escape. You will not be able to see anything that happens outside of your hotel room or sneak a photo from your window.”
The construction of underwater hotels is a relatively new development in the global hotel industry, with only a few examples of small-scale underwater facilities in existence worldwide.
While designs for large underwater hotel projects have been publicised in more developed countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, prohibitive construction costs have often meant that elaborate plans were mothballed, with Dubai’s Hydropolis Hotel – estimated to cost some $300 million – being one such example.
DPRK’s state travel agency, the Korea International Travel Company (KITC), would not provide NK News with details on the funding or scale of the underwater hotel, but previous even small-scale examples of underwater rooms can be extremely expensive to construct.
The whole world seems to be waiting to find out how North Korea will finance the construction of the hotel at Wonsan.