North Korea has hosted a record number of visitors, according to Pyongyang. File Photo by Yonhap
Sept. 9 (UPI) -- Inbound tourism to North Korea reached record highs in 2018 with 200,000 foreign visitors, according to the regime's tourism bureau.
As North Korea engaged diplomatically last year, including with China, the country has also received more visitors, Pyongyang's national tourism office said, according to South Korean newspaper Segye Ilbo. In past years, North Korea received only 4,000 to 6,000 Western visitors annually.
The report comes at a time when North Korea-bound tourism is being encouraged in China, which shares an 880-mile contiguous border with the North.
In August, Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported Chinese President Xi Jinping instructed Chinese travel agencies to increase the number of tourists to the North to 5 million people a year -- a figure that would "balance" the 4.78 million Chinese travelers to South Korea annually.
Chinese state media is showing support for North Korea initiatives in building tourism infrastructure.
Beijing's People's Daily reported North Korea is "pursuing a new economic line." The projects include "great strides" made in North Korea's tourist sector, according to the report.
Kim Jong Un recently "inspected" a hot springs resort under construction in Yangdok county, in South Pyongan Province, then expressed "satisfaction," the People's Daily said, citing a recent article in Korean Workers' Party Rodong Sinmun.
People's Daily also stated train tickets between the Chinese border city of Dandong and the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, are in high demand.
Buses filled with tourists from China are crowding parking lots near Pyongyang train station, and tourism has grown since North Korea held its mass games in June, the report said.
China and North Korea are highlighting closer ties on Monday when North Korea observed its founding day.
The Rodong said Xi sent a message of congratulations to Kim on the day of the 71st anniversary.
In his message, Xi said he is willing to work toward the "greater happiness" of the Chinese and North Korean peoples, according to the Rodong.