Young Pioneer Tours, a Chinese company that specializes in budget tours of North Korea, sent an email to USA Today claiming that the risk "for Americans visiting North Korea has become too high." As a result, they can no longer offer tours to Americans.
"The devastating loss of Otto Warmbier's life has led us to reconsider our position on accepting American tourists," the email read. "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."
Warmbier was held for 17 months in North Korea after being accused of trying to steal a political poster and sentenced to 15 years hard labor. At some point during his captivity, he fell into a coma. North Korean authorities attributed his condition to a case of botulism and a sleeping pill, while American doctors said they found no traces of botulism- but they did find that Warmbier's brain had been damaged by oxygen deprivation.
Warmbier was returned to the United States in June, but six days after returning he passed away.
The tour group called Warmbier's incident "appalling". They claimed that they reached out to North Korean authorities and requested to speak with Warmbier during his detention, but were denied.
"Despite constant requests, we were denied any opportunity to meet him or anyone in contact with him in Pyongyang, only receiving assurances that he was fine," they said. "There has still been almost no information disclosed about his period in detention. Considering these facts and this tragic outcome we will no longer be organizing tours for U.S. citizens to North Korea."
"We had held onto hope that he might recover, and have the life that he should have had, but now those hopes are gone, and we too are reeling with the shock of a young man's life taken well before his time," Young Pioneer Tours said.
The tour company was formed by British expatriate Gareth Johnson. Their motto is "providing budget travel to destinations your mother would rather you stayed away from." They started out only offering tours to North Korea, but have since included locations such as Antarctica, Chernobyl, Iran, Iraq, and Xinjiang.
The company has come under criticism by former tourists who say that their Young Pioneer tour guides encouraged reckless behavior and heavy drinking. "Frankly, this company is run by some hard-drinking dudes and the culture of their tours is infused with that," said an anonymous source to the Washington Post.
Other guests felt no such pressures. "It was perfectly fine while we were there," said Daniel Lahti, a Swedish man who traveled to Pyongyang with Young Pioneer Tours in April, to the Post. "He was very concerned about safety and told us that everyone should behave in certain ways. As long as you play by the rules, you'll be fine."
Roughly 1,000 Americans visit North Korea every year, mostly thrill-seekers. Most of them leave the country without serious incident.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has suggested that he may issue a travel visa restriction on Americans who wish to go to North Korea, while Congressmen are murmuring about a possible travel ban.