Israeli Firm Organizing Tours to North Korea

A South Korean news program showing a file image of a missile launch conducted by North Korea. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)

An Israeli tour operator has been selected by the North Korean government to arrange tours to the country, Channel Two reported. The operator will be empowered to issue visas to Israeli citizens who wish to visit North Korea, subject to the approval of the Pyongyang government.

The first organized tours will take place in the spring, the report quoted the Tarbuto travel agency as saying. The company said that it had signed an exclusive deal to organize tours to the country, which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel. According to Chaim Peres of Tarbuto, “North Korea is one of the most fascinating destinations in the world today. It is a country almost completely closed off to the rest of the world and cut off even from its neighbors, full of mystery.” As such, he expects a strong response among Israelis for the tours the company is organizing.

According to the company, fewer than 100 Israelis have ever toured North Korea. Israelis have been able to enter the country only via visas issued in China, but as a result of this agreement, the North Korean government tourist agency, KISTC, will approve visas issued directly to Israelis. There are no direct flights, however, and all travel to and from the country will be via China. About 1,500 Western tourists visit the country annually, and all tours are conducted by the government tourist agencies.

Peres said that he does not expect political issues, such as North Korea’s firing of a ballistic missile over the weekend, to prevent Israelis from visiting. “North Korea has one of the lowest levels of personal crime in the world, and tourists there feel very safe,” he added. The report quoted Foreign Ministry officials as saying that there were no restrictions on Israelis visiting North Korea, and that no travel warnings were extant for visits to the country. “Obviously, we would urge visitors to be extremely cautious and to keep in mind that Israel does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea, although it is not classified as an enemy state,” the Ministry was quoted as saying.