New York Times shuts down $11,995 Saudi Arabia tours

The New York Times is shutting down three planned guided tours to Saudi Arabia as a result of the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“In light of the uncertainty surrounding the disappearance of the Washington Post’s Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey, The New York Times has decided to cancel all upcoming Times Journeys departures to Saudi Arabia,” a New York Times spokesperson said in an email.

The New York Times “Journeys” are tour packages to destinations around the world. Tour groups are often accompanied by Times’ correspondents and other experts. The journey to Saudi Arabia was advertised as “Saudi Arabia and the Emirates: The Past and Future of Oil.” The 10-day tours included lodging in five-star hotels and started at a cost of $11,995 per individual. The spokesperson said refunds will be issued to those who signed up for the tours.

It’s not the first time the Times has canceled an organized tour. The paper says it canceled a trip to Ethiopia in 2016 due to unrest in the country.

The Wrap first reported on the tour’s cancellations.

Turkey claims to have evidence that Khashoggi, a US resident, columnist for the Washington Post and critic of the Saudi regime, was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul earlier this month — an accusation the Saudi government strenuously denies.

Saudi Arabia has been trying to boost conventional tourism, and began issuing its first tourist visas this year. The kingdom already welcomes millions of Muslims who make the pilgrimage to Mecca each year.

Tourism is a central plank of the country’s plan to reduce its reliance on oil. It’s aiming for 30 million visitors a year by 2030, up from 18 million in 2016, and it wants annual tourism spending to hit $47 billion by 2020.

The country is planning to build resorts and a theme park. It is also looking to use its vast array of archeological treasures to attract new visitors.

But Khashoggi’s disappearance and the role the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may have played is a possible threat to the kingdom’s ambitions on the world stage.

Many major businesses and CEOs have pulled out of the Saudi Future Investment Initiative conference next week, known as the “Davos in the Desert.” Most of the conference’s media sponsors, including CNN, canceled their partnerships as well.

Business magnate Sir Richard Branson announced last week that he was suspending his involvement in two tourist projects with the country, in addition to suspending talks around a $1 billion investment into his company’s space ventures.

“What has reportedly happened in Turkey around the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, if proved true, would clearly change the ability of any of us in the West to do business with the Saudi government,” Branson said in a statement.