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North Korea's vast Ryugyong Hotel not opening yet after all
The tallest unoccupied building in the world will remain just that, as Kempinski declares entry "not currently possible"
This was going to be the year.
The year that the infamous North Korean "hotel of doom" would finally open, allowing the world's more adventurous tourists to gawk at whatever ridiculous or bewildering or extravagant interior North Korea dreamed up for the colossal glass-plated money drain that has stood empty on the Pyongyang skyline for nearly three decades.
The year that the hotel would start becoming a "money-printing machine," as Kempinski Hotels group CEO Reto Wittwer predicted at a Seoul business forum in 2012, when it was announced the company would be managing the 105-story property.
But despite speculation that swept through the travel world about an official opening as early as this summer, it looks like Pyongyang's 330-meter Ryugyong Hotel will keep its Guinness World Record as the tallest unoccupied building. At least for a while.
Kempinksi's entry 'not currently possible'
Following recent tensions with North Korea, the Geneva-based Kempinski Hotels chain issued a statement earlier this month distancing itself from the project.
"Kempinski confirms that KEY International, its joint venture partner in China with Beijing Tourism Group (BTG), had initial discussions to operate a hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea, however no agreement has been signed since market entry is not currently possible," reads a statement Kempinski provided to CNN via email.
When asked about possible future entry, a Kempinski representative said, "you just never know what might happen in the future."
Also on CNN: Gallery - The unseen face of Pyongyang
Reporting from the inside
The projected 2013 launch seems to have been optimistic in the first place.
Despite its flashy exterior, the hotel's interior showed no sign of being close to completion in December, according to Simon Parry, a Hong Kong-based freelance journalist who took an unauthorized look inside the hotel last year.
After entering North Korea as a tourist on a four-day trip from China, Parry lied to his North Korean minder that he was going for an early morning jog, ran straight to the Ryugyong Hotel and made it into the lobby.
He looked around and took pictures before being spotted by a North Korean soldier.
"When I stepped through scaffolding into the lobby and looked inside, there were no completed surfaces, just bare concrete and one electric light hanging down," Parry told CNN.
A few days prior to his secret visit, Parry's tour group had seen lines of soldiers with shovels marching in and out of the hotel complex.
"From what I saw of the inside, it's a concrete shell," said the journalist, who added that his hotel foray was a "foolish thing to do."
Fortunately, no one pursued Parry as he made his way back to his hotel. When he returned to his tour group, he was reported to the tour guide who demanded to see his camera but didn't follow through with any punishment.
Despite the unfinished interior, Parry describes the hotel as “fantastic from the outside -- it's dazzling, coated in expensive glass tiles.”
The juxtaposition of the spaceship-like building with its humble surroundings is dramatic, he adds.
"In the morning and evening the effect of the sun's reflection blazing down over the rest of the city is extraordinary," said Parry.
Delayed for decades
The North Koreans started erecting the 330-meter Ryugyong Hotel, the tallest hotel at the time, in 1987, with the opening scheduled for 1989. It's estimated to have so far cost $750 million, or 2% of the nation’s GDP.
But the 1989 completion was delayed, reportedly due to construction method and material problems, and then delayed again in 1992 because of funding issues.
The project ground to a halt completely in 1993.
Construction re-commenced in 2008 when Egyptian telecommunications company Orascom shelled out $180 million to complete the building’s glass façade.
The investment was reported to be part of a $400 million mobile phone license that the company won from the North Korean government in 2008.
Also on CNN: The happiest place in North Korea