Dead student’s travel com­pany ac­cused of a ‘cav­a­lier at­ti­tude’

The Daily Telegraph - - World News - By Ni­cola Smith

THE prom­ise of he­li­copter rides over Py­ongyang and booz­ing with the lo­cals at a beer fes­ti­val in the world’s most se­cre­tive coun­try is an in­stant lure to thrill-seek­ing trav­ellers.

But since the death of Amer­i­can student Otto Warm­bier, 22, who re­turned from a North Korean prison in a coma and whose fu­neral was held yes­ter­day, the travel com­pany he used, Young Pi­o­neer Tours, has faced ac­cu­sa­tions that it was too ca­sual about the risks of trav­el­ling to such a ruth­less regime.

Founded in 2008 by Bri­ton Gareth John­son, the com­pany built a rep­u­ta­tion for “trips to des­ti­na­tions your mother would rather you stayed away from”, with most of YPT’S Tripad­vi­sor re­views glow­ing tributes to the pro­fes­sion­al­ism of its tours.

How­ever, since Mr Warm­bier’s death, some for­mer trav­ellers have al­leged that YPT tours have a cav­a­lier at­ti­tude. Alex Hoban, a Bri­ton who trav­elled with the com­pany in 2009, said: “Young Pi­o­neer Tours has developed a rep­u­ta­tion for gung ho and un­ruly al­co­hol-fu­elled youths, prop­a­gat­ing an un­real idea of North Korea.”

Mr Warm­bier was re­port­edly drink­ing un­til 5am on the night of his so­called “crime”, added Mr Hoban, re­fer­ring to the student’s al­leged steal­ing of a pro­pa­ganda poster in a ho­tel, for which he was sen­tenced to 15 years hard labour.

Adam Pitt, 33, a Bri­ton who trav­elled with YPT to North Korea in 2013, ac­cused the com­pany in an ear­lier in­ter­view of putting tourists at risk by en­cour­ag­ing drunken be­hav­iour.

Mr Pitt, who does not drink, claimed Mr John­son was of­ten “blind drunk”, and “ab­so­lutely clue­less” dur­ing a tense con­fronta­tion with bor­der guards on the jour­ney to China.

Troy Collings, a part­ner at YPT, strongly de­nied Pitt’s claims and said that Mr John­son also re­futed the al­le­ga­tions: “Adam Pitt’s ac­count of that par­tic­u­lar tour is noth­ing like that of other tour mem­bers.”

He said that on the night of Mr Warm­bier’s al­leged crime his group had been told to go to bed at a rea­son­able hour and avoid be­ing hun­gover.

YPT said this week it would no longer take Amer­i­cans to North Korea be­cause the risk “has be­come too high”.

The fu­neral pro­ces­sion for Otto Warm­bier, who died after he was re­turned to the US

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