The world’s tallest hotel will open next year in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang before the 105-story, pyramid-shaped building is completed.
The Ryugyong Hotel will open “partially probably middle of next year” in July or August, German luxury hotel operator Kempinski AG Chief Executive Officer Reto Wittwer said today at a forum in Seoul. Kempinski will be the first western hospitality service to operate in North Korea, he said.
“This pyramid monster hotel will monopolize all the business in the city,” Wittwer said. “I said to myself, we have to get this hotel if there is ever a chance, because this will become a money printing machine if North Korea opens up.”
Kempinski is handling management while Orascom Telecom Media & Technology Holding SAE (OTMT) funds the hotel as part of a $400 million mobile phone license it won from the North Korean government in 2008, he said. Cairo-based Orascom has already spent $180 million on completing the hotel’s facade.
“Orascom’s investment is compensated by very unique modules,” Wittwer said. “In North Korea they compensate with mining rights, raw material, commodity and commodity exchange because they don’t have cash,” Wittwer said.
Wittwer, the 64-year-old Swiss hotelier, said he was approached over a decade ago in Geneva by Ri Chol, a mentor to new North Korea leader Kim Jong Un who at the time was serving as ambassador to the United Nations. Ri was looking for new investors for the hotel since construction stopped in 1993 because of insufficient funds and economic mismanagement, Wittwer said.
Kim’s regime is increasing its tourism promotion in an effort to earn foreign currency for an impoverished economy burdened by international sanctions imposed over North Korea’s nuclear program.
The top floors of the hotel will house guests in 150 of the originally planned 1,500 rooms, which “will be developed over time” to resize the insufficiently-designed spaces, Wittwer said. Shops, restaurants, a ballroom and Orascom’s offices on the ground and mezzanine floors will also open next year.
Ryugyong, which means “capital of willows” in Korean, is the tallest hotel in the world at 330.02 meters (1,082.8 feet), according to Emporis GMBH, which collects data on buildings of high public and economic value.
Orascom owns a 75 percent stake in Koryolink, North Korea’s sole mobile network operator, through the 25-year mobile phone license it obtained in 2008.
Naguib Sawiris, founder and executive chairman of Orascom, visited North Korea Oct. 4-6, during which he toured a beverage factory and a dolphinarium, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.