A Fabulous New Luxury Hotel—In North Korea?

The 1,080-foot-high Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, opening in April, has also been labeled the “Hotel of Doom”

The Ryugyong Hotel
On April 15, North Korea will open the tallest and swankiest building in Pyongyang, the Ryugyong Hotel. Ian Guttridge

“Luxury” is not the first word that comes to mind when describing North Korea. But the April 15 centennial birthday celebration of “Eternal Leader” Kim Il-sung is scheduled to include the opening of the tallest and swankiest building in Pyongyang: the Ryugyong Hotel. Official descriptions of the 1,080-foot-high edifice promise 3,000 suites, business facilities, an observation deck and revolving restaurants. Ryu­gyong translates as “Capital of Willows,” but wags have dubbed it the “Hotel of Doom.” The unsightly pyramidal structure has invited comparisons to an evil castle or an earth-bound Death Star. In earlier years, pundits also called it the “Ghostscraper” because the building stood empty and unfinished. Construction began in 1987, only to stop five years later during a severe economic downturn. The Pyongyang regime was so embarrassed by the uncompleted hotel that it was airbrushed out of photos. But four years ago, North Korea announced that it had formed a partnership with the Egyptian conglomerate Orascom Group to finish construction, at an estimated cost of $1 billion to $2 billion. The project is seen as part of a broader attempt to portray Pyongyang as a booming, modern city that will help attract Western tourists and investors. However, given rumors that substandard concrete and tilted elevator shafts lie beneath the hotel’s shiny new exterior, visitors might want to consider other accommodations.

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