University of Virginia Student and 22-year-old Otto Warmbier passed away on Monday only days after he was released to the care of his family in the United States from a North Korean prison. Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in 2016 after he was accused of trying to steal a propaganda poster while on a trip.
When Warmbier was returned to his family, he was comatose.
Now, the tour company that took Warmbier to the dictatorship will no longer offer Americans the option of traveling to North Korea.
Young Pioneer Tours (YPT) said as much in a statement on their website:
The devastating loss of Otto Warmbier’s life has led us to reconsider our position on accepting American tourists. There had not been any previous detainment in North Korea that has ended with such tragic finality and we have been struggling to process the result. Now, the assessment of risk for Americans visiting North Korea has become too high.
“Considering these facts and this tragic outcome we will no longer be organising tours for US citizens to North Korea,” they added.
After offering their “deepest sympathies” to Warmbier and his family, the tour group alleged that repeated requests to check on Warmbier’s position were only returned with “assurances that he was fine.”
A scathing review of YPT, who truly stands by their mission to provide “budget travel to destinations your mother would rather you stayed away from,” was posted by Consumer Affairs. A look at the travel group’s website and a statement from British national Adam Pitt, who used YPT for a trip to North Korea in 2013, suggest that there appeared to be little information on safety while traveling to the country and more concern with drinking.
“It’s not a place where you cut costs, and it’s not a place where you want to take risks when it comes to putting your trust in someone who cares more about money and the status of being a North Korean travel guide than he does about your safety,” Pitt said, critical of the tour guides after recalling details from his trip.
British national and founder Gareth Johnson did not return Consumer Affair’s calls to address Pitt’s recollection of the trip. Australian national and team member Rowan Beard responded to the article by denying the facts of Pitt’s retelling.
The group also boasts travel to “Afghanistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Chernobyl, Cuba, Antarctica, Eritrea and more.”