Marriott in hot water for misnaming Chinese regions

Wang Qingchu Hu Min
Authorities closed down Marriott International's Chinese website for a week, punishing the hotel chain for listing Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Tibet as separate countries.
Wang Qingchu Hu Min

Authorities in Shanghai yesterday closed down Marriott International’s Chinese website for a week, punishing the world’s biggest hotel chain for listing Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Tibet as separate countries in a customer questionnaire.

The Shanghai Cyberspace Administration said it was also shutting the Marriott’s mobile phone application, in a move that would disrupt bookings.

The American company was also ordered to conduct a thorough scrutiny and rectification. The administration said it would take further action based on the rectification.

In a Chinese-language questionnaire sent out to customers a few days ago, Marriott listed Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and the Tibet Autonomous Region as separate countries. China claims sovereignty over the four regions.

Huangpu District authorities have launched an investigation into Marriott, whose China headquarters are registered in the district, for its alleged breach of China’s Internet security and advertising laws.

Huangpu’s Internet and market regulators held meetings with executives of the hotel chain on Tuesday and Wednesday, urging them to remove all “relevant content” from their various platforms.

China National Tourism Administration ordered Shanghai’s tourism watchdog to make investigation yesterday.

Marriott, which owns hotel brands including JW Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Sheraton, Westin and W Hotels, apologized yesterday, restating it respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China.

“We sincerely apologize for any actions that led to misunderstanding on the aforementioned stance,” the company said in a statement on its official Weibo account.

“We don’t support separatist groups that subvert the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China,” it said, adding that the hotel chain had suspended all questionnaires and corrected its app. Marriott said it would actively cooperate with the authorities’ investigation.

The hotel group, however, caused anger after online users discovered yesterday that Marriott Rewards gave a “like” to a message on Twitter that stated: “Friends of Tibet congratulate global hotel chain Marriott International for listing Tibet as a country along with Hong Kong and Taiwan.”

It is still unknown whether the “like” was an individual act or done by the hotel group itself.

Chinese social media users raised the alarm after the hotel group had listed Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Tibet as countries in an e-mail questionnaire to its members. The same error also appeared on its smartphone app.

Initially Marriott merely attributed the listing as a “system glitch,” without further elaborating, according to a report by on Tuesday.

One netizen using the name Zhongjusaodi was the first whistleblower, whose post has since been forwarded over 20,000 times and received more than 40,000 “likes.”

Many Chinese members of Marriott have said they will boycott its hotels. “Such practice is totally unacceptable and hurts the feeling of Chinese, and I will turn to other hotels as a result,” Li Xin, a Marriott member for two years, told Shanghai Daily.

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