Here is an interesting interview from Yonhap with the founder of Koryo Tours:
When it comes to jobs that raise eyebrows, Nick Bonner’s line of work is up there with crocodile wrestler and organ procurer. As the founder and director of Koryo Tours, the 50-year-old Englishman makes a living guiding tourists into the world’s most isolated state — North Korea.
“I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it and if I didn’t love the people,” he said. “If I wanted the easy option, I would be doing tours to Hawaii.”
Bonner’s life path was not paved in advance. Having studied landscape architecture in the U.K., he planned to be a countryside ranger. But a visit to Beijing in 1993 at the invitation of his friend Josh Green, leading to a friendship with a North Korean, changed his future.
“We played (football) with him and became mates, and he was going back to North Korea to work for the tourism board,” Bonner recalls. “He said, ‘We need Western tourists. Do you want to come?’”
Green and Bonner gathered a group of eight pals and entered the Hermit Kingdom.
“It was an eye-opener,” said Bonner, who was drawn to both Pyongyang’s cityscape and its inhabitants. (The latter is something visitors to the North often remark upon — the unsophisticated, old-fashioned charm of the populace.)
Sensing opportunity, Green and Bonner founded Beijing-based Koryo Tours that year. Although their Pyongyang contact greased bureaucratic skids, business was slow, so Green and Bonner decided to open “Poachers,” Beijing’s first live music nightclub. Green then departed, leaving Bonner as the sole operator of Koryo.
Bonner was subsequently contacted by British documentary producer Dan Gordon, who was fascinated by North Korea’s 1966 World Cup squad, which had beaten Italy, a world power. Bonner helped out Gordon by tracking down members of the team.
The pair went on to produce the film “The Game of their Lives” (2002). It screened worldwide and earned the aging North Korean players a return trip to the U.K.’s Middlesbrough football stadium, the site of their triumph, and they received a standing ovation.
The film and its follow-up, “A State of Mind” (2004) — covering two Pyongyang gymnasts preparing for the Arirang mass games — not only put a human face on the “axis of evil,” they also put Koryo’s name on the map. Tourist numbers swelled and Koryo found itself in the black.
Bonner reckons he has taken over 12,000 tourists in, largely Europeans, Southeast Asians and North Americans. Most trips visit Pyongyang, Nampo, Kaesong and the demilitarized zone, and there are special short tours solely for the Arirang mass games. Koryo also runs trips to Mount Baekdu and Hamhung, North Korea’s second city. [Yonhap News]
You can read more at the link but I for one will never pay a dime to visit North Korea until the Kim regime is gone because I believe every tourist that goes to North Korea is indirectly funding the atrocities this regime commits. Bonner disagrees:
As he insists that his tours are non-ideological, what is his response to those who allege he is helping fund an odious regime?
“Tourism requires legal channels for doing business. You don’t have it in war zones, so it requires North Koreans to set up a structure to deal with the outside world and I think that is very positive,” he says. “People will disagree, but it would be difficult to further isolate the country and I think engagement is a better policy; non-engagement has not worked.”
It depends on what is meant by engagement. If Bonner believes the international community should be sending billions to North Korea to fund the Kim regime lifestyle and their nuclear program while people starve and languish in concentration camps then I am against engagement. If engagements means talking to the North Koreans without giving them the pay day they are always after then I don’t have a problem with it. The diplomats can talk all day with the North Koreans for all I care, however when money starts to go to the regime to fund their military and regime elite like the profits made from this tourism venture does, then yes I am critical of engagement.