A Kiwi who headed the first budget travel agency to North Korea, Troy Collings, has died of a heart attack at 33.

Collings was co-founder and managing director of Young Pioneer Tours, which targeted younger tourists who wanted to tour the communist country.

Its goal was to make visiting North Korea affordable and Collings is seen as a tourism pioneer there.

Collings, originally from Auckland, died last week, the company said.


"Troy was instrumental in establishing Young Pioneer Tours as one of the leading travel companies for North Korea. We here at YPT have lost a visionary and a true pioneer to the travelling industry," it said in the statement.

"Those of us who have been fortunate enough to know or to be led on a tour by Troy have lost a dear friend.

"No words can adequately express our sadness over Troy's death and our condolences are passed onto his family in New Zealand. We will honor Troy's memory by continuing our efforts in YPT and to continue the work he loved so much."

In a 2018 interview with NK News, Collings said he had been fascinated with the country ever since he watched A State of Mind many years ago.

After visiting the North on a research trip he realised Pyongyang was serious about tourism and decided to start the firm to bring foreigners in.

"I saw the potential tourism had to help the locals and to influence the country's development," Collings said.

"More importantly, I made some real human connections with people I met that had a profound effect on me and I decided during that trip that this is what I wanted to dedicate my life to."

He helped open the Tumen-Namyang border crossing between China and North Korea to foreign tourists in 2012, and became the first westerner to cross the border.