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July 1, 2011

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Take off for direct flight to Pyongyang

A DIRECT flight between Shanghai and Pyongyang is scheduled to start today.

The service is expected to attract local tourists previously put off by long transit times on the journey to North Korea's capital.

Air Koryo, a North Korea-based airline, will offer two flights a week - on Tuesdays and Fridays - in a Tu-204 aircraft.

Initially, the flight will operate until the end of October but may become a long-term fixture if the market responds well, local travel agencies said yesterday.

The first batch of 138 tourists taking the direct flight will stay in North Korea until next Tuesday, said the Jinjiang International Travel Service Co Ltd.

Agencies said inconvenient transport links have meant demand for trips to North Korea has been slack since the country opened to Chinese package tours in 2009.

"As far as I am concerned, we are a leading company doing trips to North Korea, but we receive no more than 200 tourists a year," said Xie Jianxiao, a marketing manager with Jinjiang.

Previously, tourists had to transfer in Beijing or Shenyang City in northeast China's Liaoning Province.

"Most people who want to go to North Korea are middle-aged people or seniors," said Xie.

"In the past, many people were put off as they feared they'd be exhausted by the time they got there," he said.

"But now it will take them only three hours from Shanghai to Pyongyang," said Xie.

The direct flight, however, won't mean a drop in the price of the whole tour package. That will still cost around 6,000 yuan (US$928).

Agencies explained that as the charter flight will not - at least for now - be a long-term business, its operational costs are high.

While welcoming the direct flight, many tourists hope that package prices can eventually be reduced.

"It is even more expensive than going to South Korea," said 50-year-old Ruan Weiying.

"I'd like to visit North Korea but I don't know whether the tour is worth the price."

Agencies said Mount Kumgang and the Mount Myohyang are the two favorite destinations in North Korea for Chinese tourists.

Cell phones cannot be brought into North Korea, but cameras and video cameras are permitted.


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