Tourism in Authoritarian States: a Comparative Analysis of Cuba and North Korea


The present paper is dedicated to the importance of tourism in such authoritarian states as Cuba and North Korea (the DPRK). The present thesis aims to reveal the development of tourism sector in Cuba and the DPRK through the in-depth comparative analysis and evaluation of both countries. Both Cuba and North Korea are compared upon essential focal points such as history, economy, the tourism industry, the relationships with the USA, etc. The peculiarities of tourism of each state are highlighted, including tourism activities and policies that influence the influx of tourists. The conclusion of the paper confirms that owing to the authoritarian image, North Korea is a less attractive tourism destination, while Cuba’s socialist image does not prevent it from enjoying high popularity with tourists. The present thesis findings imply that the forms of authoritarianism are different in both countries. Although Cuba and the DPRK need to develop tourism for their economic benefit, each of the state follows its own particular path with a relative measure of success conditioned by different historical and political context.


Introduction and Scope of the Study

The present paper is focused on the importance of tourism for Cuba and North Korea, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Both of them are authoritarian states with their own historical background, governmental policies, and economic peculiarities. Naturally, authoritarianism affects tourism in a certain way, making it a fully controlled economic sphere and an aspect of state international policy. In general, authoritarianism is a political regime characterized by centralized and highly concentrated political power, and the exclusion of potential challengers, and political repressions; in addition, political parties and mass organizations serve to organize and mobilize people around the main regime goals (Levitsky & Way 2010, p. 365). However, although Cuba and North Korea are based on the authoritarian regime, the authoritarian status in both states is different; therefore, this political regime has its own impact on the tourist industry of both states (namely, incoming tourists, tourist infrastructure, and tourism management). Thus, the aim of the present study is to reveal how tourism develops in such authoritarian states as Cuba and DPRK, and to make its in-depth comparative analysis.

The mentioned states are both authoritarian, but Cuba and North Korea have different historical, political, economic, social, and cultural experience. It allows one to assume that these states have their own tourism activities and governmental policies, conditioned by the historical and economic context. According to the opinions of Levitsky and Way (2010), “when Cuba’s communist regime collapses, the likelihood of democratization is greater than in countries such as North Korea” (p. 361). This piece of evidence is essential for the present paper as it deals with the comparative analysis of Cuban and North Korean tourism.

The comparative analysis of the study embraces many crucial points: the state history, economy, political system, tourist industry, international relationships, influence of the US on tourism development, etc. First, the study deepens into the state history to understand the historical circumstances for tourism development, and the current situation with international tourism. Second, the paper deals with the analysis of importance of the tourist sector for the state economy; it shows the role of tourism for economic development of an authoritarian state. Third, the paper embraces a wide range of activities related to the development of the state tourism; this information, accompanied with the valuable statistical data, will greatly contribute to the aim of the present study. Fourth, the role of the state governmental policies in both states is revealed to provide insight into the real practices of the tourism policy and their influence on the state tourism. Fifth, the marketing strategies of the state in the sphere of tourism are presented to understand what goals are pursued by the governments. Finally, the paper will provide information related to the international conflicts that affect the tourist industry in authoritarian regimes, namely, the one between the US and Cuba, and the USA and North Korea.

Research Question and Hypothesis

The present paper is dedicated to the analysis of tourism development in such authoritarian states as Cuba and DPRK in XX century. However, the current situation with tourism in both states is also within the scope of the study. The paper tends to reveal how tourism shaped the face of the mentioned authoritarian state. The major research question of the thesis is presented below:

RQ: How has tourism influenced both Cuba and North Korea in the 20th century?

However, there are some minor research questions as well that may help to reveal more detailed information about Cuban and North Korean tourism:

  • Is the tourism industry of North Korea comparable to the one in Cuba since both countries have the same political system?
  • To what extent has the US influenced the political situation in Cuba and North Korea and what effects did this have on their tourism (the problem of embargo should be revealed here as well)?
  • How has the Cuban tourism industry developed in the 20th century, and what are the reasons for this development? Has the revolution influenced tourism?
  • How has the North Korean tourism industry developed in the 20th century, and what are the reasons for this development?
  • Does the political system block certain groups of tourists from entering the countries, and what are the reasons?
  • To what extent has politics influenced the tourism industry in North Korea?

The present study aims to confirm the overall hypothesis concerning Cuban and North Korean tourism:

Major Hypothesis: The authoritarian Image of North Korea prevents tourists from visiting the country, whereas Cuba’s image of socialism does not threaten people from going there.

Nevertheless, there are minor hypotheses, based on certain pieces of evidence that should be confirmed:

  • North Korea has lower tourism income rates because of its Visa restrictions for example against US citizens; those are more severe than in Cuba.
  • Tourism in North Korea has suffered of low tourism income because of the negative reports in Western media.
  • Cuba is less authoritarian than North Korea and therefore more interesting for tourists.
  • Cuba’s geographical position and weather conditions allows tourism all year long.
  • North Korea is not a typical tourist destination and has less to offer for tourists; in addition, North Korea does not allow the typical tourism activities such as beach vacations.
  • Tourism in North Korea in general is much more expensive for western tourists not only because of the travel distance, but also because there are not many travel agencies offering trips.
  • North Korea is saver to go for tourists because there is no reported criminality.
  • North Korea is less interesting for tourists because as opposed to Cuba there is no personal mobility allowed.
  • North Korea’s personality cult of Kim Jong Il and his father Kim Il Sung might be a reason to travel to North Korea for some tourists.
  • North Korea has invested most of its money into defense-related industry instead of tourism.

Main Body: A Comparative Analysis

The present study will be based on the analysis and discussion of the Cuban and North Korean aspects of tourism and historical, political, and economic experience of the authoritarian states. The existing relevant literature that may reveal the crucial points mentioned in the introduction will help to examine some parallels in their experience. The valuable statistical data, along with tables and figures, derived from the academic sources, will prove some pieces of evidence concerning tourism in both states. The focus will be put on the tourism infrastructure and comparison of its development in Cuba and DPRK. In addition, today’s situation with tourism in these states will be described.

Brief History of Cuba

In the context of the present study, this section of the paper should be focused on the period of XX-XXI century. The changes in the political system, happened during this period, contribute to the research question and hypothesis, and approximate to the aim of the thesis. Brief history of Cuba will reveal all aspects of the state tourism that successfully has been developing under the authoritarian regime.

Cuba (see Appendix 1) is an exceptionally interesting country in the world from the political point of view. In XX century, this state lived under three different political systems that affected its economic policy. XX century started with the significant date for Cuba. On May 20, 1902, Cuba gained its formal independence from the US as the Republic of Cuba with its own Constitution. However, the first political system was ended with the overthrow of President Gerardo Machado in 1933: independence war veterans (survived after the Cuban War of Independence resulting in the Spanish-American War) were disappointed with the dictatorship, self-government, and intervention of the US in Cuba’s affairs, and raised revolts (Domínguez 1978, p. 2). In addition, although formally Cuba was not under the protectorate of the US anymore, the state did not become sovereign.

The Republican period lasted in Cuba for 57 years, from 1902 to 1959. The first half of this period was rather painful. The subsequent interventions of the US in Cuba raised Cuban nationhood. Despite the violent period for the state politics (characterized by political instability, corruption, sieges of governmental buildings, etc.) and social life (racial inequity, conflicts), Cuba grew economically: sugar generated the economic boom. Fernández (2000) noted that “economic growth produced sizeable elite, a relatively strong middle class, a magnificent capital city, and many other achievements (for example, women’s suffrage) that enhanced the image of Cuban exceptionalism” (Fernández 2000, p. 49). However, although the state seemed to grow, factually, money passed to private hands of the people who were involved in large-scale illegal affairs. Corruption became a source for the economic growth. At the same time, the Cuban population remained forgotten by their own government that was “an unprincipled bunch of thieves” (Fernández 2000, p. 49). The Cubans realized their exceptionalism and uniqueness as a nation, waited for the state renewal, and needed moral leadership.

The second political system of Cuba is connected with the rule of the national and military leader, Fulgencio Batista who became a dictator and the US-aligned Cuban President. Batista was an army sergeant who contributed to the Gerardo Machado’s overthrow in 1933. However, Haney and Dippel (2005) underlined that although Batista “danced to Washington’s tune”, his democratically elected government carried out numerous essential reforms for the state (Haney & Dippel, 2005, p. 16). Owing to these social reforms, the rights of the non-white Cuban population were expanded: for example, they could occupy high posts. The Cuban Constitution of 1940 reflected the state radical and progressive ideas.

The Batista’s ruling was quite an ambiguous period for the Cubans. On the one hand, the state modernization propelled the development of Cuba. On the other hand, partially owing to Batista, the state experienced hard times. First, in the 1940s, Cuba was involved in the military combat during World War II. Second, the state appeared under the power of the Mafia and the US. Haney and Dippel (2005) revealed the following pieces of evidence:

“In the 1950s, US business owned 90% of Cuba’s mines, 80% of its public utilities, 50% of its railways, 40 % of its sugar production, and 255 of its bank deposits. Of course, the Mafia controlled the lush casinos and hotels in the capital city of Havana” (p. 17).

In the period of 1933-1958, Cuba extended its economic regulations, but it caused many problems, especially for the state population. Desirable and feasible positive changes did not happen. The Cuban young workforce (graduates) could find jobs; unemployment grew. The middle class was especially disappointed with this situation (Haney & Dippel, 2005). However, among the population, the opposition movement grew. The revolutionist Fidel Castro who struggled for five years to force the dictator to resign his positions headed it.

In 1959, there was a successful army revolt that helped Fidel Castro to overthrow the Cuban dictator, Batista. Initially, he was the head of the Communist Party (Castro is a Marxist-Leninist), Prime Minister, and later, the President of Cuba who ruled the state until 2008. Fidel Castro made the revolution that changed the face of the state forever (Sweig 2004, p. 9). The revolutionist and rebel in his nature, Fidel was full of socialist inspirational ideal that contributed to the victory of the Cuban Revolution.

Since 1959, the third political system, based on socialism, has been prevailing in Cuba. Belonging of the state to the Communist Camp approached Cuba to the Soviet Union with its influential communist socialism, raised from Marxism-Leninism – the ideology that helped to rule the minds of people. Fidel Castro and his revolution speeded up the process of radical social transformation that positively influenced the state and its population. In Fidel Castro, the Cubans saw salvation from the economic problems, popular dissatisfaction, and frustration; for this reason, they greatly supported him (Farber 2006, p. 34).

The socialist order responded to the nationalist interests of the Cuban population. The new government tightened controls on the private sector, expropriated private property, and closed down the gambling industry, controlled by the Mafia that vainly tried to assassinate Fidel Castro. The state strengthened owing to progressive reforms aimed at the social control and security, industrialization, military power, and economic growth. At the same time, the relationships with the USA complicated, and the course of socialist development became challenging. The Caribbean Crisis that gravely affected the state economy, the struggle with the USA, and Cuban participation in wars (in Africa and Asia), and collapse of the Soviet Union were only some of the difficulties faced by the Cubans (Horowitz & Suchlicki 2003, p. 527). Nevertheless, even today, against the background of the neighboring Latin American states, Cuba proves to be powerful and relatively stable from the economic point of view. Its current development (partially provided by tourism) casts doubt on its status of the “Third World” country.

Brief History of North Korea

The history of North Korea, known as the DPRK, echoes the Cuban history to a certain degree. Like Cuba, the DPRK is the authoritarian state that was supported by the Soviet Union for a long time, and was involved in conflict with the US. However, North Korea (see Appendix 2) had its own historical experience that provide the state with the another base for tourism development.

The history of North Korea started with the establishment of the DPRK in 1948 followed by Japan’s defeat in World War II and split of Korea (South Korea was controlled by the US, while North Korea was supported by the Soviet Union); the state has its own Constitution enacted in 1948 (T’ongsin 2003, p. 104). The political life of North Korea is inseparably connected with the Korean communist politician leader and the DPRK President, Kim-II Sung, who rules the state to his death in 1994 (T’ongsin 2003, p. xxi). Under his leadership, the role of military and Workers’ Party in politics increased, and shaped the course of the regime (Kihl & Kim 2006).

Kim-II Sung came to power as an experienced military leader. During the Japanese colonial rule in Korea (1910-1945), he was an influential revolutionary leader who headed the Korean independence movement (Kihl & Kim 2006, p. 59). His outstanding revolutionary ideas and organizational skills contributed to the success of the movement. North Korea gained its independence, and its leader established the DPRK relied on its own regime. Kim-II Sung’s ideology, established in the North Korea in 1948, had a significant impact on the development of the authoritarian state (Kihl & Kim 2006).

The ideology of the state was independent: Kim-II Sung himself pointed out that North Korea should live in its own way regardless of such powerful neighboring powers as the US, the Soviet Union, China, and Japan. The juche ideology was chosen as the leading one in the state; in addition, it became the basic political philosophy of the North Korean society until nowadays. According to Sohn (2003), “the Juche philosophy asserts that a man is the master of his own destiny and has the power to determine and achieve the goals he sets for himself” (p. 162). Kim-II Sung managed to build an independent country on the principles provided by this philosophy based on the idea of national prosperity and patriotism of North Korean people. The North Korean leader truly believed that people are his God. In addition, this ideology proclaims that North Korea is the superior state in the world with inborn dignity and pride; it is far from chauvinism and aggressive oppression of other nations. North Koreans were born to regain their freedom to build a new way of life (Sohn 2003, p. 163).

The period of 1950-1953 was extremely painful for Korea as it was involved in the Korean War resulting from the physical divide of Korea (Sohn 2003, p. 16). The Korean War was a conventional war between South Korea (known also as ROK) (supported by the UN) and North Korea (supported by the Soviet military aid – People’s Republic of China). The war ended with the restoration of the border between the two Koreas. Nevertheless, Koreans will never forget this devastating, cruel, fratricidal, and destructive war; the outbreaks of fighting can be traced even nowadays. After the war, the relations between North Korea and the European Union, the US, and Japan were tense. Although the Koreas reaffirmed the principal of mutual non-aggression, the peace between North and South Koreas was relative (taking into account the assassination attempts aimed at the South Korean leaders) (Sohn 2003).

The harsh authoritarian rule, following the Korean War, was marked by negative and positive changes. Among the negative ones, one may find critical economic conditions, poverty, famine, etc. In comparison with Cuba, North Korea has remained a less-developed country (Mesa-Lago & Beck 1974). However, there were positive transformations as well; for example, one of the successful farming projects (construction of canals) gave an opportunity to the mountain villages to harvest enough rice for substantial living. In addition, North Korea was engaged in the modernization process that brought about the urban population dwellings, free medical care, and no-tax system that promised “an ideal life” (however, in the 70s, the abolished tax system revived) (Sohn 2003, p. 170). Unfortunately, the positive changes were not feasible enough to change the current status of North Korea as a “Third World” country.

The death of Kim-II Sung in 1994 resulted in his son’s acquisition of control over the country. Kim Jong II made a transition from the juche ideology to the military-first politics that formed the modern face of North Korea (Kihl & Kim 2006, p. 59). In XXI century, he remains a supreme leader of North Korean people. Together with his father, he participated in the industrial development projects that contributed to his “practical leadership training” (Kihl & Kim 2006, p. 60). However, even the talented son could not prevent the state from the problems concerning the nuclear weapons; undoubtedly, these problems became another barrier for dynamic tourism development.

In the 1990s, the state faced the first nuclear crisis that forced the DPRK to seek for a non-aggression pact with the USA that rejected North Korean calls for the bilateral agreement; the situation deepened their conflict (Carpenter & Bandow 2004, p. 30). The subsequent nuclear crises made the DPRK freeze the nuclear programs for a certain period. The current situation with the North Korean nuclear power is threatening; in XXI century, North Korea is recognized as dangerous in the modern democratic world with its nuclear weapon that has been already tested.

The present political and social atmosphere is quite tense in the state, but some tourists want to visit the country anyway. For example, the personality cult of Kim Jong II and his father Kim II Sung that saturate the local culture and other aspects of life can be attractive for some people. It is clear that the current military-oriented and nuclear status of the DPRK as the authoritarian state creates unfavorable conditions for the successful development of international tourism. Today, North Korea is an economically developing country with a huge military potential. However, it is hard to understand whether the state has the potential for the active tourism development or not.

Analysis of the Importance of Tourism for the Economy in Cuba

Taking into consideration the history of Cuba, one may think that its revolutionary spirit that can be traced even in the present political atmosphere may create challenging conditions for tourism development. Although it is an authoritative state, it is socialistic as well; capitalist socialism creates a promising ground for touristic infrastructure. In addition, Cuba is an island located in the Caribbean within a favorable climate zone that attracts tourists every year. Since the 1990s, Cuba has been specifically targeting “tourism as a mechanism for economic growth and development” (Colantonio & Potter 2006, p. xi). The present section of the paper aims to explain the reason for the tourism –centered policy of Cuba, and to prove the importance of tourism for Cuban economy.

In the pre-Revolution period, Cuba was an international tourism center for US businesspersons and tourists, and rich Cubans (for example, Mafia). Nevertheless, when socialism was established, tourism became nationalized. Nowadays, Cuban national tourism continues developing, constituting the major economic support for the whole state (Spencer 2010).

In the post-Revolution period, when Fidel Castro focused on the communist socialistic model for the state development, and nationalized the US properties, the US imposed a commercial, economic, and financial embargo on Cuba that paralyzed the state brown sugar industry. In addition, the Cuban missile crisis (the confrontation between Cuba, the US, and the Soviet Union happened in the Cold War period), the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the fiscal crisis greatly distressed the state economy (Zimbalist & Brundenius 1989, p. 432). All these factors made the Cuban government focus on tourism as the leading economic sector. In this context, tourism should be viewed as an emerging and profitable sector for the state economy. Following the opinion of Colantonio and Potter’s (2006), one may see that:

“tourism, which was previously generally considered as an unproductive economic sector by socialist governments, has been rediscovered as a key economic activity by countries such as Cuba which have comparative advantages, including good climate, and adequate environmental health conditions” (p. 3).

This way, tourism became an effective drive for Cuban economy, and a key element of the long-term developmental strategy of the country. Although the state remained communist in the post-Soviet world, its socialist policy was harmoniously combined with market capitalism in the tourist industry, it helped the authoritarian state to be fully integrated in the global economy in the end of XX century. In 1989, Castro announced that Cuba entered the “special period” for the state, and promoted a series of institutional and economic reforms (Colantonio & Potter 2006, p. 4). Tourism was promoted as an effective economic tool that would save the state from the total breakdown after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

In the 1990s, tourism proved its exceptional importance for the state in the “special period”. As one may see, the table (see Appendix 3) shows the evident growth of tourism and its impact on the state GDP. Since the early 1990s, the number of tourists notably grew, and by 2000, the index reached the highest point. For example, in 1990, there were more than 340 thousand of incoming tourists; the gross income from tourism was equal to US$ 243 million (1.2 % of GPD). In this year, tourism greatly contributed to the growth of GPD (about 21 millions of Cuban pesos). Moreover, a considerable part of the Cuban population was engaged in the touristic infrastructure (52, 000 employed) (Colantonio & Potter 2006, p. 38). In 2000, the indices increased: there were about a million and a half of incoming tourists, nearly US$ 2 billion of the gross income from tourism (equaled to 7% of the state GPD). Owing to tourism, GPD grew to 28 million of Cuban pesos, and more than 100 thousand of Cubans were employed in the tourist sector (Colantonio & Potter 2006, p. 38). Naturally, in the current period, these indices are considerably higher than in XX century (Mesa-Lago 2007, p. 13). The table with the recent indices (see Appendix, 4) shows how the situation has changed in comparison with 1989. Especially the index of gross revenue impresses; in 2006, it equaled more than US$ 2 billion.

In XXI century, the Cuban industry is one of the fastest growing in the whole world. Among the tourists, there are many people coming to Cuba for the reason of recreation; some tourists are business travelers. Varadero beaches (the north coast) are the largest resorts in the Caribbean islands. Today, the majority of tourists come from Europe (Spain, England, Italy, France, and Germany); however, there are many tourists from the USA, Canada, and Mexico as well (Spencer 2010, p. 13). In XXI century, the international carriers offer numerous destinations for the tourists including Cuba. Undoubtedly, Cuba attracts more and more people every year making them enjoy the sun and local environment, beaches, high-quality services, and pleasant water of the Caribbean Sea. Regardless of the US embargo and tense relationships between Cuba and the US, American citizens go on coming to Cuba regardless of the official prohibition for traveling there.

As it was mentioned and shown in the table (see Appendix 3), tourism contributes to the economic development of the state, increasing its GDP; however, Cuban tourism has become a profitable source for the foreign investment as well. Since it was a “special period” for Cuba, the state opened the doors for dynamic tourism development, and Cuban tourism became the main source of hard currency. Since 1993, Cuba has been using both US dollars and Cuban pesos: this dual economy makes Cuba a unique country. According to Spencer (2010), “the growth of foreign also presented people with job opportunities in hotels, offices, and services administered by international companies” (Spencer 2010, p. 88). As one may see, investments created new economic opportunities for the Cuban development. The expansion of self-employment and a tourism-led recovery were another expression of the market capitalism in Cuba. In general, the current Cuban economy relies on tourism that has become the only source of the big profit and a great support to the economic growth that helps the state to overcome its status of the “Third World” country (Wilson 2011).

Analysis of the Importance of Tourism for the Economy of North Korea

North Korea is the authoritarian state that has its own policy in relation to tourism. As Cuba, the DPRK sees in tourism a profitable economic sector that contributes to the overall development of the state. However, tourism is highly controlled by the Kim Jong’s government. In addition, the country invests more the military sector as the government chose the military-first politics that promises to provide the population with security. In XX century, the DPRK regarded the tourism industry as an area that was rather necessary than important. Nevertheless, since the first international tourist region was created in1998, this view has changed (T’ongsin 2003, p. 439).

Taking photos and interactions with the local population by tourists are controlled by the state everywhere. Nevertheless, North Korea is believed to be open to the international tourism. Although tourism is relatively important for the DPRK, there are many restrictions and prohibitions for the incoming tourists. For example, according to Willoughby (2008),

“tourists visit DPRK only on guided tours, with private transport arranged by the Koreans. Even a solo traveler will have two guides, a driver and a car to zoom about the country, and a guide is with you virtually all the time. The guides have the permits that all Koreans need to travel from city to city, checked at checkpoints surrounding the cities, and which tourists cannot obtain themselves” (Willoughby 2008, p. 66).

In addition, access to many parts of the country is prohibited for the tourists, so foreigners’ free movement is not permitted. Under the conditions of unstable electricity supply and severe shortages of petrol, North Korea can be reasonably evaluated as lacking an efficient, developed public transportation system. Only a fixed number of Western citizens are allowed to visit the state. Moreover, foreign tourists (usually, from Asia-Pacific countries, European countries, and Russia) are limited to shops, restaurants, and exhibitions that accept only hard currency: tourists cannot use local currency (“won”) (Willoughby 2008, p. 66).

A great number of limitations mean that incoming tourists are effectively kept away from the worst parts of the cities and countryside; for this reason, they are permitted to visit only well-fed and well-tended areas. In the limited range of tourist places, the needs of locals are met. Although the state-owned media impose a negative image of a foreigner (who would seem to distrust North Koreans), the local population treats tourists naturally. Willoughby (2008) even noted that the locals “are ultimately very warm rather than hostile” (Willoughby 2008, p. 66). Currently, tourism is developing as recently the northern border with China was opened for foreigners.

The government of the DPRK allows any person to travel to the state, but there are numerous restrictions, limitations, and complexities concerning entering the country. People of all nationalities need a specially approved visa to enter North Korea. Owing to historical reasons, visas were not traditionally issued for the US and South Korean citizens. Nowadays, South Koreans and American (and journalists of all nationalities) should get a special permission to enter the country; otherwise, they are denied. Travel agents may help to cope with the visa application process that is considered quite complex and durable. Within North Korea, visitors are strictly attached to their designated tour area because it is not allowed to travel outside them. In addition, the tour guides take visitors’ passports for the duration of the tourists’ stay in the DPRK. In XXI century, the government takes measures to provide the South Koreans and Chinese with special tours to the DPRK (Robinson, Bartlett, & Whyte 2007, p. 379).

Despite all the limitations and complexities faced by the foreign tourists, North Korea needs tourism to develop its economy, and to maintain it on a sustainable level. Weakened and exhausted by the Korean War, the US and Soviet Union interventions, and famine, North Korea saw a source of a potentially sufficient revenue in tourism development. North Korea offers a wide range of interesting places for visitors because the state has evident natural and historical assets potentially interesting for foreigners. Tourism became the source of enrichment when the state government realized some successful tourist projects at the end of XX century (Hwang 2010, p. 190). In addition, North Korea made efforts to practice tourism and attract tourists in the 1980s and 1990s, when it became a member of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) (in 1987) and the Pacific Asia Tourism Association (PATA) (in 1995) (T’ongsin 2003, p. 440). Since that time, owing to the state tourist membership, North Korea has not been making passive promotions through brochures anymore, but has been participating in tourism-related international events. Through special tourism programs, the state increases its foreign currency revenues.

Some factors contribute to the tourism expansion in the DPRK nowadays. First, Asian-Pacific and European investments undoubtedly develop the touristic industry. Second, hotel building is profitable because they become the only place to stay in the country during a tour. Third, special tourism programs (for example, those aimed at cultural tourism or knowledge partnership) and reconstruction projects (related to the state tourism sites and places of attraction) have a positive impact on the North Korean tourism development (Haggard & Noland 2007, p. 11).

According to T’ongsin’s (2003) book, North Korea has realized that tourism is important for its development. One may see the attitude of the state government to this essential economic sector; “the country must develop its tourism industry for economic benefits, increase its foreign currency income, and thus contribute to the socialist construction of a strong and prosperous nation” (T’ongsin 2003, p. 440). Thus, similarly to Cuba, North Korea relies on tourism greatly because it promises the economically safe future of the developing authoritarian country.

Undoubtedly, the DPRK depends on tourism because the latter positively influences its economy. It needs tourism because it promises big profits to keep the local population in a sustainable economic and social climate. Being the developing country, the DPRK highly depends on money derived from the tourist sector. As North Korea has limited supplies of agricultural land, it greatly relies on industrial factories needed to be well equipped. The manufactured products are sold to pay for food imports to feed North Koreans. Unfortunately, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, starvation and malnutrition have become the major problems in the North Korean society (Lew, Hall, & Timothy 2008, p. 247).

Tourism has greatly helped the economy of the DPRK, and goes on expanding. For example, according to the data of the Korea National Tourism organization, about 130, 000 foreign tourists visited North Korea in 1998 (nearly 85% of them came from Asian-Pacific countries; 11% – from European countries). It gave the state an opportunity to earn $40 million through tourism. In the subsequent years, these indices and number of incoming tourists increased (T’ongsin 2003, p. 440). In 2006, the total number of visitors was more than 1.3 million (Kim & Kang 2009, p. 188). The state’s expenditure on the tourist industry increased as well (Euromonitor International 2009). For example, in 2004, the government spent nearly 2 KPW (North Korean Won) billion, but in 2009, this index reached almost 4 KPW billion (see Appendix 5). It means that although the state highly invests its military sector, the tourist industry remains one of the essential ones in the North Korean economy.

In contrast to Cuba, the development of the tourist infrastructure for North Korea is a challenging task. The DPRK is the authoritative state with a strong sense of nationhood and the rooted ideology that claims that North Koreans are a supreme nation in the world. In addition, the country is military-focused; its nuclear weapons, and other factors related to the state military force do not enhance tourism. Nevertheless, North Korea attracts tourists every year similarly to Cuba. The current situation with the tourist industry contributes to the economic development of the state (T’ongsin 2003).

Tourism Activities in Cuba

As it was mentioned, Cuba followed its tourism promotion strategy in the 1990s. The state engaged in the urban planning and hotel building aimed to provide incoming tourists with high-quality services. Tourist agencies and firms were established to attract foreign tourists, and to provide them with the tours to Cuba. The Cuban tourism sector was reorganized to make the tourist industry functioning more effective. For example, the National Tourism Institute (INTUR) replaced the National Institute of the Tourism Industry (INIT). INTUR has been collaborating with the state tourist firms: Publicitur, Cubatur, etc. Colantonio and Potter (2006) noted that these firms are “aimed to publicize tourism abroad and to organize trips to Cuba from sixteen European countries and Canada” (Colantonio & Potter 2006, p. 106). This way, the multi-faceted tourism promotion strategy was aimed to encourage the modernization of the Cuban tourism.

The strategy gave an opportunity for foreign investments and development of tourist region in the state as well. The Cuban government tried to attract foreign investors in its green tourism development projects. Attraction of foreign capital proved to be beneficial for the Cuban tourism development because this socialist and authoritarian country could not develop the tourist industry on its own. Between 1990 and 1995, the National Institute of Physical Planning devised “a National Plan for the Development of International Tourism” that identified about 70 “tourist poles” requiring development throughout the state territory (Colantonio & Potter 2006, p. 111). As one may see, the table (see Appendix 6) shows the major tourist regions located in western, central, and eastern zones of the island with the centers in Havana, Cienfuegos, and Santiago de Cuba (Colantonio & Potter 2006, p. 105).

With the promotion of the chosen strategy, the tourist flows to Cuba notably grew throughout the “special period”. Cuba evolved into the most dynamic and competitive Caribbean tourism market. The capital of the state (Havana) was chosen as one of the most essential tourist poles with a great potential to have a wide range of tourist areas and places of attraction. The “Master Plan” was updated in 1992 to meet new demands of the state during the economic crisis. Colantonio and Potter (2006) underlined that

‘the scarcity of financial resources and restricted access to international funding meant that urban development projects were concentrated in sectors that were able to generate hard currency and allow the economy to keep going” (Colantonio & Potter 2006, p. 112).

The Cuban government chose three profitable sectors: scientific research, international sports events, and real estate for tourism and foreigners. Thus, the efforts were concentrated on the construction of sports facilities and scientific research centers. In addition, pharmaceutical plants in Havana were built; the coastal area was modernized with urbanized zones; new hotels were built, and the old ones were remodeled. The construction activity (that contributed to the real estate market for tourists and foreigners most of all) demanded huge financial resources, but at the same time, local residents’ housing needs remained neglected (Colantonio & Potter 2006). In general, the Cuban government switched its interest to international tourism at the expense of local Cuban residents’ living conditions improvement. Most investments and government efforts were directed to the development of the leading economic sector in Cuba. However, tourism generated employment for the locals – it was a significant change that promised Cubans a range of jobs in the profitable and demanded industry.

With the expansion of tourism development in Cuba, many tourism-related activities emerged. These activities included travel, catering, accommodation, leisure, retail establishments, recreation and sport, entertainment, etc. The tourism activities provided Cubans with more than 200 million jobs. Undoubtedly, these tourism activities contributed to the successful tourist policy that attracted more tourists to the island. According to the statistics, made by ONE (National Statistical Office of Cuba in English), “global tourist arrivals jumped from 25.3 million in 1950 to 703 million in 2003 while total expenditure climbed from US$ 2.1 billion to US$ 474 billion over the same time period” (Colantonio & Potter 2006, p. 25). Spending vacations in Cuba became a popular and prestigious activity for foreigners. In the 1950s, about 90% of tourists liked visiting countries of Western Europe and North America; however, by the beginning of XXI century, this index decreased to 60% because Cuba, the developing tourist-centered country, became the most demanded resort in the world (Colantonio & Potter 2006).

The Cuban tourism agencies offer different tourism activities and economy class for foreign visitors. For example, in contrast of North Korea, individual tourism is possible in Cuba. It is possible to book a comprehensive individual tour throughout different destinations that allows visitors to enjoy the country individually, and not to be attached to a tour guide. Group tours and cruise ship tours in numerous Cuban harbors are also very popular with tourists. In addition, eco-tourism has become the widespread type of green tourism. Cuban sustainable developmental practices related to eco-tourism are aimed to protect the state environment, and contribute to the unique nature of the island (Kandari & Chandra 2004, p. 94).

Lodging and catering are the main tourist activities in Cuba. The Cubans provide tourists that live in first-class hotels with the high-quality services. The hotel personnel should keep its foreign clients in a pleasant and hospitable atmosphere. The hotel staff and tourism-related workers should surprise tourists with the wide assortment of services and products that would make them believe that Cuba is the embodiment of the earth paradise (Brenner 2008).

Among the variety of touristic entertainments, informal activities can be found in Cuba as well. For example, “jineterismo”, or horseback riding is widespread in the island (Burns & Novelli 2008, p. 73). Some informal activities such as local horseback riding gives a tourist an opportunity to interact with the locals, to enjoy Cuban nature and the way of life together with horses, and to listen to the locals’ narratives. However, the informal activities have a negative aspect as well. They enhance visitors to get access to services and products formally unavailable, for example, drugs and sex with a local prostitute. A Cuban expanding and diverse black market is the result of informal and illegal tourist-local interactions. Although the government tries to control the international tourism in the state, black markets and illegal encounters increase anyway (Burns & Novelli 2008, p. 73).

One cannot but agree with a photojournalist: “generally, living in first-class Cuban hotels is convenient and pleasant. Tourists are spared almost all the everyday problems plaguing citizens” (Brenner 2008, p. 151). Incoming tourists may mistreat the locals, making them feel pinched. Racial conflicts and “tourist apartheid” (expressed in the locals’ isolation from the gaze of tourists seeking for exotica) are only some of negative consequences of the Cuban tourist cult. The negative impact of tourism made the state government take corresponding measures, and limit interactions of locals with incoming tourists. One of the Cuban laws, for example, requires accepting payment from tourists only in hard currency. Another law deals with the prohibition for locals to enter tourist areas (Brenner 2008, p. 151). In general, one may see that Cubans experience not only positive consequences of tourism (namely, expressed in enrichment and employment), but also negative ones (illegal activities, racial conflicts, black market, locals’ isolation, etc.).

Tourism Activities in North Korea

The development of tourism industry in North Korea is inseparably connected with the governmental tourist policy aimed to make tourism a controlled activity. When the state became a member of the mentioned world tourist organizations (WTO and PATA), it started participating in tourism-related activities: it took part in the International Tourism Exhibition and Travel Mart Exhibition; the tourist agencies and firms designed attractive travel packages, etc. Since the 90s of XX century, three tourist agencies have been operating in the DPRK – Korea International Travel Company, Korea Taedonggang Travel Company, and Korea Bongwang Travel Company (T’ongsin 2003, p. 440). All tourist interactions within a tour are controlled by these agencies.

The state tourist policy goes hand in hand with the economic one. Like Cuba, the DPRK is also concerned with the protection of environment and promotion of caring attitude toward the local nature. For this reason, the tourist industry is believed to be the “smokeless industry” that contributes to the economic growth (T’ongsin 2003, p. 440). T’ongsin (2003) emphasized, “the fact is that North Korea has become more aggressive in promoting tourism, and this “smoke-free” industry seems to be a part of its economic rebuilding policy” (T’ongsin 2003, p. 440). Tourism development in North Korea is a complicated process accompanied by numerous barriers that slow down the state integration in the popular tourist zone.

The first barrier is the strict policy in relation to foreigners and tourists. As it was mentioned, there are many restrictions and limitations for incoming tourists. Some areas are hidden from the tourists’ eyes. Moreover, individual tours are not permitted, in contrast to Cuba. A tourist may only travel with a guide; free movement across the country is prohibited. The second barrier is the tense relationship of the DPRK with ROK expressed in special permits for South Koreans to enter the state, and even in military activities in restricted zones (for example, terrorism).

In this context, T’ongsin (2003) reminded of the Mt. Kumgang case that took place in 2008. Mt. Kumgang, located in North Korea, has been a tourist area that attracted many visitors. However, in 2008, a Korean People’s Army soldier shot a South Korean tourist who walked into a restricted zone. After this incident, tourism in Mt. Kumgang was suspended for a long time (T’ongsin 2003, p. 440). Nevertheless,

“in order to increase its foreign currency flow tourism, North Korea was forced to choose to cooperate with south Korea and other countries as long as it did not threaten the existing power structure” (T’ongsin 2003, p. 440).

Thus, since recent times, Mt. Kumgang tourism has been renewed, and has brought a certain profit to the state. The financial benefit from Mt. Kumgang tourist entry tax is used to expand and improve social infrastructures, and to purchase raw materials and fuel necessary to run enterprises and factories (T’ongsin 2003). However, regardless of the mentioned barriers, North Korean tourism goes on actively developing, providing incoming tourists with different tourism-related activities.

Today, North Korea is open for international tourism. Its continental climate has its own advantages; however, in contrast to Cuba, visitors cannot enjoy sunny beaches here. Nevertheless, there are many places of attraction in North Korea. Its beautiful nature and dynamic urban life may attract a foreigner. The mount Kumgang is believed to be a sacred place for North Korea; its surroundings are extremely picturesque. Other tourism areas include Baekdu Mountain, Kaesong, Pyongyang (the capital of the DPRK), etc. (Lew et al 2008, p. 248). In Lew’s (2008) book, one may find the following piece of evidence, “most tourist activities…are geared toward extolling the virtues of the Great Leader Kim II Sung and his son, the current leader, Kim Jong-II” (Lew et al 2008, p. 248). Tourists may see numerous monuments dedicated to the national leaders. They also may see bright circuses and festivals held in North Korea for tourist attraction.

The DPRK offers a wide range of entertainments and other tourism activities. In North Korea, tourists can be provided with a good hotel accommodation with relatively satisfactory services. According to the 1999 statistics, “by 1999 there were 60 tourist hotels with some 7,500 beds” (Federal Research Division 2007, p. 10). Unfortunately, in the DPRK, prices are quite high for an average foreign visitor. Nevertheless, there are beautiful tourist areas that should be visited. For some tourists, North Korean tourist attractions include the extensive mountain scenery; some arriving people like skiing here; other visitors enjoy the “retro-Stalinist atmosphere” (Federal Research Division 2007, p. 10). On the south coast, tourists may visit a scenic sport area, and practice favorite kinds of sport. In local markets or souvenir shops, a tourist may buy some remembrance about this Asian state with its own rich culture and traditions – an artifact made of wood or iron, a pottery, or a bronze statuette.

Although the majority of people believe that the DPRK is a “reclusive state”, the country actively develops its tourist industry (Federal Research Division 2007, p. 10). Tourism expands with new sports facilities, new sport-tourist zones concentrated around the capital, and different tourist resorts and recreation centers located throughout the picturesque corners of the state (in forests, near the lakes, in the mountains, etc.). Some places in the DPRK unite traditional activities with tourism facilities, for example, resorts located near local fishing villages. In addition, cultural tourism and eco-tourism have been developing for a long time in North Korea. Eco-tourism is encouraged by the policy of ecosystem preservation; cultural tourism is expressed in revitalized events, festivals, and performing arts (Henderson 2002).

As one may see, North Korean tourism activities differ from the Cuban ones. Difference in climate, localities, culture, political ideology and other aspects present the DPRK as a unique authoritarian state that has chosen tourism as one of the most essential economic sectors. In this context, tourism is a profitable area that may help to relieve the developing country from the economic burden of the past.

The Role of the Government and Its Policies in Cuba

The role of the government and its policies in the Caribbean is great owing to the evident advantages of the island tourism that contribute to the sustainable economic development. The Cuban government implemented a special strategy in the “special period” that allowed tourism to emerge as the primary source of financing economic development. As the sugar industry declined, tourism became the single most essential economic sector for the country. The tourism development strategy, designed, implemented, and invested by the Cuban government is “based upon high-volume mass tourism” (Apostolopoulos & Gayle 2002, p. 41).

As it was mentioned, Cuba has the strongest growth rates in the Caribbean islands. Undoubtedly, it is explained by the evident success of the tourism policy that highly relies on foreign investments. Apostolopoulos and Gayle (2002) believed in the following piece of evidence, “due to the extensive deterioration in the country’s tourism plant, however, the government has been actively pursuing foreign investment to revitalize the sector” (p. 41). In 1987, the Cuban government made an effort to streamline the investment process, and created Grupo Cabanacan – the major corporation that negotiates foreign capital for investments into the state tourism industry. It is reported that more than seventy joint-venture investments have been established in the Cuban tourism sector. Usually, Cuban investors originate from Mexico, Spain, Germany, and Jamaica. In 1994, the Ministry of Tourism that became the sole organization responsible to the Cuban tourism policy replaced INTUR (Apostolopoulos & Gayle 2002, p. 41).

The Cuban government’s approach is to market itself as the most beautiful Caribbean island with an abundance of natural landscapes for both beach tourists and eco-tourists. The tourism strategy implies promotion of unique Cuban history, culture, and heritage. In addition, it positions the island as “a land of joyful and hospitable people” (Apostolopoulos & Gayle 2002, p. 41). Today, Cuba goes on marketing its picturesque natural landscapes that reflect the entire splendor of the Caribbean mountains, rivers, beaches, and rich flora; the strategy is targeted at all kinds of tourists (from beach lovers to extreme eco-tourists). Undoubtedly, the Cuban government and Ministry of Tourism promote a comprehensive product.

The success of the strategy is based on the evident assumptions. Besides the fact that there is a growing number of incoming tourists every year, there are two other ones. Apostolopoulos and Gayle (2002) believed in the two following assumptions as well; they stated that “tourists will spend money; the increasing revenues can only have a positive impact on the economy” (p. 41). Moreover, foreign investment flowing into Cuba also provides it with sustainable economic development. Nevertheless, the government realizes that there are many things to be done to improve the tourism infrastructure.

Currently, the Cuban government and special tourism organizations take measures to diversify tourism activities. Unfortunately, such major tourist centers as Havana and Varadero have a limited number of entertainments: some beaches, hotel bars, and “discotecas” (Apostolopoulos & Gayle 2002, p. 42). In addition, in some tourist areas, there is inadequate customer service. Thus, the present-day task for the authorities is to diversify the limited tourism infrastructure with a wide range of entertainment options with high-quality services.

Today, the government of Cuba is concerned with strengthening the sustainability of the chosen strategy; otherwise, it will not bring desirable results feasible for the state economy. Now, Cuba is building its tourism platform based on price. An average tourist spends nearly US$70 in Cuba. Profitability of the strategy is still under the question, as it does not bring feasible income that would help to improve the economy of the developing country. Besides the price, some measures should be taken regarding quality of customer service because now it is insufficient owing to lack of workforce’s skills. A high price for tourists should prove itself with a high-quality service that attracts and retains the foreign visitors. For this reason, staff needs to be properly developed to meet the demands of the most captious clients (Apostolopoulos & Gayle 2002, p. 42).

The Cuban authorities are attempting to focus on the market segmentation strategy that may attract the well-provided category of foreign tourists “to pay top dollar” for Cuban scuba diving sites (considered as the best ones in the whole world), open sea fishing, deserted beaches, magnificent flora and fauna, etc. (Apostolopoulos & Gayle 2002, p. 42). Only in case of the modified basic strategy, Cuba will be able to promote an upscale product to high-end and upscale customers. Thus, currently, the Cuban tourism infrastructure is being upgraded by the government and tourist organizations that follow the reconsidered and improved tourism policy aimed at generation of greater economic benefits from upscale clients.

Such socialist and authoritarian state as Cuba has it own tasks needed to be solved. Although tourism remains the strongest economic sector, it slows down its growth owing to the limited tourism infrastructure, low prices, and insufficient quality of customer service. In this context, the role of the government and its tourism policies is exceptionally significant. The government needs to develop and encourage a private sector that would provide the tourism industry with support services. Besides the policies aimed to overcome the mentioned problems of today’s Cuban tourism, the other policies are needed as well; for example, destruction of the black market and other side effects of the tourism expansion (Pérez-López & Pérez-López 1998).

The Role of the Government and its Policies in North Korea

Tourism in the DPRK is extremely politicized, and this phenomenon can be traced everywhere within the tourism infrastructure. Only the government defines the tourism policy that must be followed and highly controlled by authorities. In the North Korean context, tourism is inseparably connected with such dimensions as the local ideology, the established regime, international relationships, the overall state development, value change, and capitalist society. In addition, today’s tourism of the DPRK should be associated with the legal effort to establish peaceful relationships with each nation, and with its neighbor – South Korea (Henderson 2002, p. 17).

Both North and South Korea have a revolutionary, tragic, and painful past full of violence and challenges. Moreover, in the past, they were a single kingdom inhabited by a single nation that was forcibly divided by the fraternal war. For this reason, the question of allegiance with South Korea is sharp in the North Korean tourism policy. However, it is possible to say that the state makes a notable progress in establishing good relationships with other nations through international tourism (Henderson 2002, p. 17).

Nowadays, North Korea remains “staunchly Communist” and military-centered (Henderson 2002, p. 18). Today, it is still ruled by Kim Jong II, the son of Kim II-Sung – the founder of the state and ex-Supreme Leader of the North Korean nation. Henderson (2002) added, “the veneration attached to his father embraces the two figures” (Henderson 2002, p. 18). However, the personality cult and pseudo-Stalinist regime attract many tourists into the country.

The DPRK’s “socialist autarchy” is based on the philosophy of juche (in other words, self-reliance); nevertheless, the government chose tourism as an important and promising economic sector that brings a big profit. One may see that tourism development is a challenging process as the state is confronting such economic problems as famine and bankruptcy; in addition, the country is concerned with the following environment-related problems: water pollution, water-borne diseases, soil erosion, deforestation, inadequate supplies of potable water, etc. (Federal Research Division 2007, p. 6). The fact is that the country is in crisis, and wants to maintain its economy with tourism regardless of the mentioned evident problems. Although tourism policy implemented by the government and special tourist organizations is not developed for a global market, it seems to be relatively successful at the early stage of its utilization.

Not long ago, North Korea was almost completely isolated from the rest of the world, but now this country welcomes incoming tourists (the number of which is gradually growing) anticipating financial returns. Nowadays, the country collaborates with the international tourism organizations, and takes advantage of investments (mainly Chinese). In general, the government invests in the tourist industry, but unfortunately, its limitation concerning tourists’ free and individual movement throughout the country, restrictions for some nations to enter North Korea without special permits, and other barriers do not let the state to develop tourism actively. The limitation policy expands even within the state; the government prohibits the locals to leave the country. According to Henderson (2002),

“the North Korean ban on outbound travel could be seen as an attempt to prevent the exposure of its citizens to damaging influences which might lead to criticism of the government’ (Henderson 2002, p. 21).

As one may see, the country wants to preserve its unique image (supported by its unique ideology) by controlling the population, and its interactions with the incoming tourists. From the government’s point of view, tourism development of the state is based on the objectives to maximize foreign exchange earnings, and to minimize contact with foreigners and possible outcomes of these interactions. Thus, North Korean government sees tourism “as a Trojan horse tasked with destabilizing socialism” (Henderson 2002, p. 22). Undoubtedly, the ideology and regime of the DPRK slows down the process of North Korean tourism development and global expansion.

Tourism in the state has a political motive, too; for example, Hyundai (a private South Korean entrepreneur) was permitted to operate the cruises to Mt Kumgang “as part of a US$400 million scheme to transform the whole area into an international tourist attraction” (Henderson 2002, p. 22). In addition, Hyundai provides North Korea with tourism facilities (airports, hotel accommodation, golf courses, etc.) to host many thousands of visitors every year. The global conglomerate company pays the DPRK US$942 million every year, and supports its tourism. In the North Korean context, Hyundai should be viewed as an effort of the DPRK government to maintain stable, peaceful, and mutually beneficial relationships. Through tourism, the North Korean government promotes the national economic development that relies on economic cooperation and international confidence, and cultural, social, sports, environmental, and other exchanges. Moreover, today’s tourism policy demonstrates the desire of the DPRK to integrate into the global tourism process (Henderson 2002).

Another expression of the North Korean politicized tourism is the spread of eco-tourism and cultural tourism. According to the Environment Minister, eco-tourism meets the needs of “smokeless industry”, accustoming locals and foreigners to the preservation of the unique ecosystem (T’ongsin 2003, p. 440). Cultural tourism is expressed in the traditional performing arts, festivals, and events connected to Confucianism (a leading religion) and other national assets of North Korea that may attract tourists (Federal Research Division 2007, p. 7).

Thus, the North Korean tourism is controlled by the political ideology, and responds to the economic needs of the state. The government’s tourism policy is aimed at the development and expansion of tourism through investment, peaceful and stable climate, and collaboration with the other countries. However, tourism develops unconfidently, as the state’s own limitations and barriers (namely, the tense relationships with ROK and suspicious attitude to foreigners) slow down the process of North Korean integration into the global market. The role of the government in the international tourism of the DPRK is decisive and significant in the authoritarian environment; the success of the implemented strategy is contestable, since the state cannot solve its economic and environment-related problems (Henderson 2002).

Marketing Strategies and Potential Real Life Tours to the Countries

This section of the paper is dedicated to the marketing strategies that determined the success of tourism in Cuba and North Korea. In addition, one will know what potential real life tours can be offered to tourists which would like to visit Cuba and the DPRK. It is necessary to say that a successfully chosen marketing strategy helps a country to concentrate its limited resources on the greatest tourism opportunities to increase the profit, to retain tourists, and to attract new ones. A good tourism marketing strategy contributes to the achievement of a sustainable competitive advantage of the country. Following their tourism strategies, the mentioned authoritarian countries offer unique tours that will show foreign visitors the best places in the country, a high-quality service, and absorbing tourism activities (Fyall & Garrod 2005).

Cuba and North Korea pursue different market position frameworks. In general, there are four strategies based on market dominance: market leadership, market challenger, market follower, and market nicher (Fyall & Garrod 2005, p. 93). According to Spencer (2010), the Cuban government has implemented the niche tourism marketing strategy that benefits the state economy. The author reveals the essence of the Cuban niche strategy:

“Niche types of tourism that the industry currently spans include cultural and heritage, socialism, beach resort, conference and business, eco-tourism, special interest, and one not supported by the government – sex tourism” (Spencer 2010, p. 16).

In addition, Cuban health tourism has also become a niche marketing competitive advantage. Cuba offers tourists advanced and relatively inexpensive medical technologies that bring hard currency for the Cuban government. According to the 2008 data, nearly ten and a half thousand of tourists visited the country for health tourism (Spencer 2010, p. 16). Eco-tourism is probably the most notable niche of the state marketing strategy; it presents a highly invested niche area of the Cuban tourism that includes environmentally friendly facilities. They offer water recycling, solar water heating, nonchemical waste treatment facilities, the use of biodegradable detergence, etc. The tour agencies (such as Rumbos) developed specialty tours for areas with the eco-tourism orientation – for example, such “hot spots” as Caye Guillermo and Caye Coco (Spencer 2010, p. 17). Cuban eco-tourism greatly contributes to the ecologically sustainable way of state development.

The only niche to be eradicated in the Cuban tourism is sex tourism that emerged and intensified on the island. Commercial sex became the way that gives Cubans access to dollars. Currently, the government wants to eradicate sex tourism by providing the local Cuban women with improved social conditions: employment for women, full gender equality, etc. (Spencer 2010, p. 17).

Thus, Cuba is a market nicher concentrated on the specific market segments mentioned above: namely, beach resort, eco-tourism, cultural, and health tourism. The chosen strategy made Cuba a competitive market player not only in the Caribbean, but also on the global scale (Fyall & Garrod 2005, p. 93). Within the framework of the marketing strategy, Cuba offers numerous tours to the country. Besides common tours to Cuba (oriented to the beach or Cuban entertainment lovers), one may find the following real life tours: Oxfam Community Aid Abroad Tours (OCAAT), Global Exchange’s Reality Tours (GERT), birding tours, etc. (Fyall & Garrod 2005).

OCAAT are study tours aimed to educate tourists during travel, and make them culturally sensitive. These tours are organized not by the Cuban tourist agencies, but by development and human rights organizations “devoted to ‘responsible’ tourism in developing countries” (Spencer 2010, p. 7). GERT are also study tours designed to make tourists more active, socially responsible, and oriented towards international human rights. These tours appeal “to learn while on holiday” (Spencer 2010, p. 150). The Long Point Bird Observatory of Ontario, Canada coordinates the birding tours. They provide tourists with rare opportunities to reveal unique and beautiful Cuban birds (Wauer 1996, p. 34).

North Korean tourism presents the mixed marketing strategy model: there are some features of a market nicher and a market follower. On the one hand, the DPRK is focused on specific market segments that give an opportunity to respond to the demands of the target group (foreign visitors). On the other hand, North Korea follows and duplicates the tourism experience of ROK and other Asian developing countries without challenging them and making huge investments in its own tourist industry (Fyall & Garrod 2005, p. 93). In the world tourism market, the positions of North Korea are neither strong nor challenging; they are rather flexible and stable.

Some of the most significant areas in the North Korean niche market strategy are recreation, health tourism, cultural tourism, and eco-tourism (Kihl & Kim 2006, p. 198). For example, the Korean International Travel Company is responsible for numerous specialist tours. Being the major tour operator, this company offers a wide range of tours, such as

“mud treatment, spa treatment, golf, steam locomotives (in Kaesong and a new one in Nampo), mountaineering in Kumgang and around Paektu, tae kwon do (Korean martial art), Korean language learning, Juche learning, plant tours for medicinal herbs and specialist wildlife expeditions” (Willoughby 2008, p. 66).

As one may see, the tours are aimed at different demands of foreign visitors. Tourism marketing strategies of the DPRK are targeted to provide tourists with minimum opportunities, and to get maximum profit; since the state follows some best examples of tourism implementation in other developing countries, it relies on its national assets that create a powerful basis for international tourism development. These assets can be found in the national culture, local nature, sports, etc. In general, “tourism is an important money earner for the Kim regime, which charges premium prices for ordinary accommodations” (Hassig & Oh 2009, p. 7). Thousands of tourists (the Chinese, the Japanese, a limited number of South Koreans, Europeans, and rarely Americans) visit the DPRK, and enjoy the offered tour that reveals valuable highlights of the state.

Tourism marketing strategies are an essential part of the North Korean reconciliation program as well: the DPRK is engaged in socio-cultural exchanges and international cooperation. For example, the North Korean department designed numerous South-North Korean mutually beneficial real life tours aimed to strengthen the peaceful bonds between the fratricidal states. At the same time, the DPRK expands tourism opportunities for the Chinese, providing them with individual bicycle tours without guides (Jonsson 2006). Although the market competitiveness of the North Korean tourism is doubtable, this authoritarian state has a powerful potential for development, as it has already focused on its main assets to attract and retain tourists, and has chosen the Asian tourism model that meets the needs of developing countries.

International Conflicts: the US and Cuba; the US and North Korea

Both authoritarian countries, Cuba and the DPRK, have been engaged in the international conflicts with the US that have influenced their international tourism development. Nevertheless, each of these states has experienced the conflict in its own way. The present section will reveal the essence of the international conflicts between the US and Cuba, and the US and North Korea.

According to Domínguez (1996), the most powerful pressure on the Cuban government has still been coming from Washington, the US government. The history of Cuba shows the frequent US interventions into the state, and economic constraints imposed on the authoritarian country that follows its own national way. However, the Cuban leaders (namely, Castro) have successfully resisted the US pressure. The US Congress responded to this resistance “by dictating its policy toward Cuba by law, tightening the embargo, and imposing restrictions on other countries’ trade with Cuba, all aimed at choking Cuba economically” (Domínguez 1996, p. 91). In the context of the US-Cuban conflict, embargo is not only an economic sanction, but also the political symbol of their tense relationships.

However, although the countries are engaged in a conflict, they both have something significant to offer to one another. The US wants a democratic, not an authoritarian Cuba. In its turn, Cuba wants access to the US markets, financial institutions, tourism, etc. However, Cuba seems to be vulnerable “without the protective Soviet shield”; the Cuban government cannot stop the continuous pressure of the US (Domínguez 1996, p. 93). Currently, negotiations between the countries emphasize the Cuban need for fundamental economic and political reforms that may change the existing state regime.

The long-standing embargo still exists, and the US government extends and tightens it every year. Undoubtedly, it isolates the state from the rest of the world, and creates conditions for a crisis. This uncompromising embargo policy negatively influences the Cuban tourism development, as it has become more dependent on the USA. First, there are restrictions for the US citizens to enter the country. It means that potentially, a number of incoming tourists in Cuba decreases, resulting in smaller profits. Second, as the US dollar was a legal currency in Cuba, it meant that the economic welfare of the Cuban government and population depends on the free access to the US currency. Taking into consideration the economic constraints of embargo, Cuba cannot but act illegally through black markets (Domínguez 1996).

Nevertheless, the Cuban tourism goes on expanding, as many US citizens travel to the country legally and illegally. Within the frameworks of certain study tours, for example, GERT, the US citizens can enter Cuba legally without any restrictions. Naturally, it is profitable for the Cuban government to invest in the development of such tours that would attract the US tourists (Spencer 2010). However, the imposed embargo on trade and tourism presents a serious barrier for Cuba as an economically developing country, and slows down the current process of the tourism development and expansion.

The DPRK also has tense relationships with the USA, which does not contribute to the North Korean international tourism success. After the division of Korea into two nations and states, their relations became hostile. In general, the DPRK government discourages the influx of US tourists; “the United States does not recognize the government and does not maintain diplomatic or consular relations with North Korea” (Hudman & Jackson 2003, p. 409). For this reason, North Korea has become relatively open to the US citizens only recently.

Although certain historical events made the DPRK and the USA enemies, North Korea is focused on the peaceful tourism development that may help the developing country to overcome the conflict with such powerful and influential country. Currently, the countries’ relationships remain tense; especially, the North Korean nuclear missiles and military-centered state policy of the communist government aggravate the international conflict (Hudman & Jackson 2003, p. 409). Owing to difficult economic situations, North Korea cannot but need to build strategic alliance with the USA.

According to the 2010 data, “North Korea has eased travel restrictions on U.S. tourists, hoping to boost its coffers and also improve the cash-strapped country’s image” (Anderson 2010, para. 1). Now, the US citizens are allowed to travel to the country any time of the year within the framework of official guided tours. The new travel regulations are aimed to decrease the hostility between the countries; it is a positive move toward the expansion of the North Korean international tourism (Anderson 2010). Naturally, even such tourist policy of the DPRK does not mean that the volatile current US-North Korean relations change. Unfortunately, for the US government, the DPRK remains a dangerous terrorist state.

Of course, the complicated history of negotiations regarding the DPRK’s nuclear weapons cannot be left out, but North Korea makes considerable steps to the changes that may create a powerful basis for the countries’ economic collaboration. The government’s official endorsement for the US tourists and orientation on the collaboration with the USA greatly contributed to the current image of the isolated country. In addition, the authoritarian government realizes that relationships between the countries should be improved as North Korea cannot make significant progress in such spheres as ICT and tourism. It is clear that the US investment would speed up the process of the DPRK’s development (Akhtar & Arinto 2010, p. 229).

However, according to the recent data, the Obama’s administration is still pursuing the policy of “strategic patience” toward the DPRK (Goodby & Gross 2010, para. 1). The US goes on accusing the North Korean government in “bad behavior” owing to nuclear missile tests and other relevant actions aimed to express its military preparedness (Goodby & Gross 2010, para. 4). The US troops are still located near the Demilitarized Zone. The President Obama once said:

“we’ve made it clear that North Korea’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons will only lead to more isolation and less security for them….If they choose to fulfill their international obligations and commitments to the international community, they will have the chance to offer their people lives of growing opportunity instead of crushing poverty – a future of greater security and greater respect….” (as cited in Goodby & Gross 2010, para. 6).

As one may see, the military-centered North Korean policy prevents the authoritarian state from successful tourism development and expansion. Thus, the North Korean government should reconsider its military strategy in order to meet the objectives of the tourism marketing strategy that relies on the international collaboration and foreign investments. The US-North Korean relationships should be improved, since economic support of the USA would help the authoritarian state to change its unfavorable current condition.


Although Cuba and the DPRK have the same political system (authoritarianism), tourism in each of them follows its own way conditioned by the peculiarities of the state history, economy, tourism policy, international relationships, and other influential factors. In XXI century, Cuba seems to be a globally integrated tourist country with a free tourism policy. Cuba offers considerably cheaper services and activities than North Korea; moreover, the Cuban geographical position and weather conditions are more favorable for tourism. In contrast to North Korea, there is a wide range of tourism activities in Cuba oriented at beach lovers, eco-tourists, and other visitors. However, North Korea offers cultural tourism (focused on the national religion, traditional art, personality cult of the state leaders, etc.), bus or bicycle tours, mountaineering, and other tourism facilities.

The DPRK also chose the authoritarian political style along with the pro-Stalin communist model of the state development. In addition, the North Korean President, Kim II-Sung, introduced juche ideology, based on the specific philosophy of self-reliance and national superiority. All these factors made the state isolated and reclusive, which complicated the process of tourism development. The Korean War and divide of Korea greatly worsened the relationships of the DPRK with the US and South Korea. The chosen tourist policy (military-focused) that introduced many limitations and complexities for tourists did not contribute to the dynamic process of international tourism development. Moreover, with Kim II Sung’s son (Kim Jong Il) gaining power in the DPRK, North Korea focused on its nuclear power, strategic missile allocation and defensive-related industry at the expanse of the tourist industry development and improvement.

The major hypothesis of the present study is confirmed: one may see that North Korea is less attractive for foreign tourists than Cuba is; in addition, the Cuban image of socialism seems to be more favorable for tourism development and expansion than the North Korean authoritarian and communist climate. The DPRK imposed many restrictions and limitations on the citizens of the USA and South Korea; moreover, the process of getting a visa and permission to enter the state is very complicated even for a European tourist. The number of tourist agencies, tourism-related areas, and activities is also limited for a foreigner who must be accompanied by a tour guide.

For some tourists, North Korea is an interesting country with its own unique regime, nature, culture, and philosophy, low rate of criminality, and its own assortment of tourism activities. However, for the majority of people and countries, the DPRK is a highly authoritarian country with serious economic problems, and extremely tough tourist policy; moreover, it is considered an aggressive terrorist state with a huge nuclear potential. In addition, the negative image of North Korea is partially rooted in Western media that spread the suspicious views concerning the state’s readiness to use nuclear weapon and its negative attitude to foreigners. Currently, North Korea is uncompetitive market player in global tourism, as it is not fully integrated in the world community.

Cuba remains one of the most attractive tourist countries in the world preferred by many tourists every year. Its wide range of official and unofficial tourism activities and services attract foreigners. However, the economic opportunities of the Cuban government and international tourism of the state are partially limited with the embargo imposed by the USA. Cuba is still dependent on the foreign investments. In addition, the tourism industry (namely, the quality of services, staff’s level of education, etc.) should be improved to meet new needs of the country and its population. Moreover, the government should eradicate the black market that offers officially prohibited sex and drugs.


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