North Korea’s first budget travel agent dies aged 33
The head of the first budget travel agency to North Korea, Troy Collins, has died of a heart attack at 33.
He is the co-founder and managing director of the Young Pioneer tour-an institution that focuses on young tourists who want to travel to secret communist countries.
The company’s goal is to make visiting North Korea affordable, and the company has had a big impact on North Korean tourism.
The company said Corinth was a New Zealander and died last week.
“Troy played an important role in setting up the Young Pioneer travel company to become one of North Korea’s leading travel companies,” the company said in a statement.
“We here at YPT have lost a visionary and true pioneer into the travel industry.
“Those of us who had the privilege of knowing or being led by Troy on a tour lost a dear friend.”
Mr. Collins and Gareth Johnson co-founded the company in 2008.
In an interview in 2018, he said his interest in the country was stimulated by a 2004 documentary about North Korean gymnastics, a state of mind.
On subsequent trips, he realized that “the potential tourism industry must help the locals and influence the development of the country”.
“More importantly, I had some real relationships with people I met that had a profound impact on me,” he said.
“I decided on that trip that it was something I wanted to dedicate my life to.”
He, along with Mr. Johnson, began building a tourism business to bring groups to North Korea, about half the cost that other tour organizers demanded.
“These barriers are less than most people expect, but this is mainly due to good relations, because we have formed good partners in Pyongyang,” he said.”
The agency’s packages range from visiting the capital, to Pyongyang Marathon, to rural tourism.
“If it were not for the budget pricing model pioneered by YPT, many young people would never have had access to North Korea,” Chad O’carroll, managing director of North Korea expert website NK News, told the BBC.
“These are in some cases, such as my own trip, played an important role in promoting long-term interest in the country.”
All trips to North Korea are heavily censored by North Korean groups-along with a North Korean guide, unable to choose their own itinerary.
After the company was pushed into the spotlight in 2016, one of its customers, Otto Warmbier, was arrested in Pyongyang for allegedly trying to steal the propaganda logo and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He returned to the United States in June and died a week later.
Today, the company also offers other tourist activities, including Belarus, Chernobyl or East Timor in Asia.
In 2018, Mr. Collins said he ” learned a lot- but perhaps the biggest lesson is to look at my own prejudices and see everything critically.”
“People have been talking about North Korean propaganda, but it is naive to think that we are not overwhelmed by our own stuff. Things are not black and white, the agenda is everywhere.
Don’t just form an opinion based off the last book or article you read or the speaker you see, but keep judging until you really have an understanding of the situation.”
While a tourist to North Korea remains niche, it brings a steady flow of income to the country.
The figures are difficult to obtain and unreliable,but it is considered that every year about 100,000 foreigners visit the country.
The vast majority are Chinese-the number of non-Chinese tourists is estimated to be between 8,000 and 10,000 per year.