North Korean vs Mystical Tourism

Flashback to 1960’s Peru. The country was in the middle of an identity crisis and civil war. The Agrarian reform’s focus on land redistribution in and the institution of farming collectives left Peru in a communist-like state. The failure of these reforms led to the formation of the Shining Path, made up of the working class where the farmers eradicated the upper class of Peru to restore power in the lower working classes.. A civil war was started within the empire. However the Shining Path was not successful and in the 1990’s the dictatorship was slowly replaced with a democracy. Peru was left in a poor disheveled state due to the lack of people visiting because of the many revolutions that took place. Peruvians were thought to be mean, dangerous, and ignorant of the world around them.


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Cusco, The Inca Capital

Thus, Peru established Promperu to rebrand the country. Promperu is a Peruvian tourist board and encouraged tourism to Peru by rebranding it as a safe place for people from all over the world to come. This rebranding happened gradually and relied heavily on tourism to bring back the countries status and reputation. Since big countries always dominate smaller ones (such as the West dominating smaller countries), tourism in Peru is shaped to the way the U.S. prefers it to be. Thus, it is modernized in the Western way. Landmarks such as Machu Picchu don’t need to change, it’s the people living there that have to reconstruct themselves. Peruvian state’s policies made it their mission to modernize Peru through international tourism and foreign investment, and tourism promoters and politicians increasingly invoke Andean mysticism and Inca patrimony as a marketing strategy. Mystical tourism markets and commodifies indigenous people. Many White and Mestizo tourists flocked to Cusco to see first hand the mystical Peruvian culture, and landscapes such as the Machu Picchu. In fact, mystical tourism still goes on today.

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Culture Tour Packages 

People can go on different tours in Peru depending on what their interests are. They can experience a traditional religious ritual, an innovation of mountain deities, or see a procession that honors Christian saints. The mystical tourist industry in Cusco today is increasingly contextualized by the recent history of the Peruvian economy. Since it makes for a great tourist attraction and event due to its different and intriguing culture, people are drawn to the country. They appropriate indigenous Andean spirituality  glorify all things Inca. An eyewitness account of a tourist who traveled to Cusco said he, “witnessed thousands of tourists and locals rushing to the mammoth rocks of the structure and placing their hands on the rocks to receive their energía.” Miguel Zamora, director of Prom Peru also stated that they, “want to emphasize mystical themes, because that is what people are interested in, the fastest growing sector of the tourist industry… What they are striving for is a televisual spectacle that can be transmitted to the world, a media event that will showcase Peru’s living culture and Cusco in particular as a mystical tourist destination.”

Another example of a country that is trying to rebrand itself for tourism is North Korea. North Korea is infamous for being a communist regime with a corrupt government and dictator. Due to its isolation from most of the world, North Korea is a very poor country and has been looking for ways to develop its country economically. Like how tourism in Peru was their primary pathways for economic development, North Korea is also trying to market their country for tourism. They are trying to reinvent their country so that foreigners are more inclined to visit, despite the danger that comes along with it. Like Promperu, there is a North Korean tourist board called Koryo Group that helps plan and organize tours to North Korea showcasing the countries tourist spots and attractions such as celebrating General Kim Jong Il’s Birthday, visiting war museums, and local shops.

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Similarly to mystical tourism, Koryo takes advantage of North Korea’s communist regime and the fact that people are interested in seeing the poverty and difference in living that is highlighted all over the media. In this way, the tourist groups takes advantage of North Korea’s communism and reputation to make money. Although North Korea gains its popularity for being a dictatorship, its slowly starting to rebrand itself by showing tourists its modern sides. Even though there are no phones allowed, the food, shopping areas and architecture is close to what is seen in South Korea. This might all be just a facade put up for tourists and the world to see, since people who go to visit have to go on guided tours put on the by country. Therefore they only get to see what North Korea wants them to see. Tours stray away from showcasing poverty, labor camps, and the beatings taking place everyday to show the country as being “modern”.

Pictures from North Korea taken by a tourist

Here is Drew Binsky, a travel enthusiast’s blog on his experiences visiting North Korea for three days. In summary, he came with expectations of seeing labor camps and poverty all around but instead saw a charming side of North Korea not expected, and that certainly doesn’t get discussed in the media.


2 thoughts on “North Korean vs Mystical Tourism”

  1. I found this blog post to be very interesting and informative. I was not aware that North Korea is now more open to having foreigners visit their country. I thought the connection between the intrigue powering mystical tourism in South America and North Korea was spot on. People are fascinated by the poverty and vast differences in lifestyle in these two countries. However, I believe one major flaw in North Korea’s attempt to rebrand itself is its failure to lift the prevention on cell phones entering the country. In today’s society, people are addicted to their cell phones, and spending a few days without a cell phone seems like an impossible task for many people. In addition, people probably feel unsafe in a foreign country without their phones, especially in a country with an unstable and oppressive dictator.


  2. I like the modern day application of what we are learning in class! I don’t know if North Korea (or more specifically Kim Jong Un) has been reading his history books, but I wonder if he took the idea of “Mystical Tourism” from Peru and tried to apply it his own nation hoping it would go well. If he did, he gotta look at the mistakes that Peru made! It will be crazy to see the evolution of North Korea as a nation – will it eventually adapt alongside other progressive nations, or will it continue to be isolated from everybody else? Only time will tell, and I am also still curious about North Korea and their development of Nuclear Arms. I don’t the direct motives of North Korea and whether or not they are motivated by self-defense or to be the strongest nation, but the moves and changes that North Korea makes continue to surprise me.


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