It looks like North Korea’s “Hotel of Doom” will live up to its name after all. German luxury hotelier Kempinski made the shocking announcement last November that it would open at least 100 rooms at the 105-story Ryugyong Hotel by the end of 2013. This week, amid growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula, it made the less shocking revelation that it had pulled out of the project.
Michael Henssler, regional president of Kempinski China, boasted to International Business Times in December that the hotel, Pyongyang’s largest building, would indeed open for business after more than two decades of neglect. He said the Kempinski-branded five-star hotel would “absolutely meet international standards,” including five revolving restaurants, a spa, business center, ballroom, shops and even an artistic center at the base with a theater and cinema.
Indeed Kempinski -- which was not investing in the project but merely managing it -- had high hopes.
“We’ll be the first ones in, and the first one is obviously leading and defining a market and creating a benchmark,” Henssler noted. “People ask ‘what do you want there’ or ‘are you sure you want this?’ But history and time have shown that we are one of the strongest brands in China and Russia because we were there at the beginning.”
This time around, however, it was not to be. Threats of a “thermo-nuclear” war with both South Korea and the United States have soured the already minimal contact North Korea has with the outside. On Tuesday, Pyongyang warned foreigners based in South Korea to evacuate, and by Wednesday, North Korea’s main border with China closed to non-essential travel.
Kempinski Hotels -- whose CEO, Reto Wittwer, once claimed Ryugyong Hotel would be a “money-printing machine” -- now claims “no agreement has been signed since market entry is not currently possible."
Spokespeople for “Europe’s oldest luxury hotelier” have declined to comment further, but current tensions are likely to blame for the deal falling through.
The massive hotel has long been a symbol of North Korea’s economic problems. Scheduled for completion in 1989 for the 13th World Festival of Youth and Students, it was abandoned by 1992 amid economic mismanagement and insufficient funds.
Orascom Telecom, an Egyptian company that operates a mobile phone network in the hermetic nation, began equipping the building in 2008 and reportedly spent upward of $180 million on finishing the hotel’s façade.
The last outsiders to go inside were members of a Beijing-based tour company, who were granted a rare glimpse last year. They released photos online of an expansive glass lobby with tiers of bare concrete, likening the inside of the Ryugyong Hotel to a car park.
It remains unclear whether the “Hotel of Doom” is indeed doomed, or if Pyongyang will go ahead with the summer opening without an international partner.
Mark Johanson is the travel editor at the International Business Times. He has traveled to and written about more than 30 nations and territories on every continent except...