THE Council of Australian Tour Operators has admitted “we got it wrong” when it announced that Visit Saudi would be the Major Sponsor of next week’s International Women’s Day event.
The news sparked a huge response from across the industry, with travelBulletin receiving significant feedback about the decision.
CATO reacted swiftly to the furore, confirming the next day that Visit Saudi would no longer sponsor the lunch, which aims to “showcase some of the incredible female leaders from within the CATO membership”.
“Many of us are aware that Saudi Arabia has been undergoing a series of dramatic changes and reforms as it opens up to international tourism. Part of these reforms have included significant advances in the rights and opportunities for Saudi women,” a statement from CATO noted.
“In taking on this sponsorship CATO had hoped to highlight these changes and, through the power of tourism, ensure that Saudi Arabia continues on this path. We have always firmly believed that tourism, and CATO members through the product they create, plays a vital role in opening up the world, creating change and fostering understanding between cultures.”
The organisation continued: “Whilst there have been major changes for women in Saudi Arabia, further changes are taking place and continual awareness of this is needed. For this reason, we understand industry concerns about the sponsorship of this particular event. We accept misreading this situation, despite our best intentions, and apologise for any distress this matter has caused our industry colleagues and our board.”
The sold-out CATO International Womens Day event will still take place on Wed 08 March in Sydney, with CATO saying “we would like to thank Visit Saudi for their support of CATO and our members and look forward to working with them to increase awareness and education of the positive changes being made and progression in the kingdom”.
CATO said it expected to confirm replacement sponsors shortly.