- Damir Sagolj/Reuters
• Chinese authorities shut down Marriott International’s Chinese website after discovering the company listed Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, and Macao as countries.
• Craig S. Smith, the president and managing director of Marriott’s Asia-Pacific office, apologized for the incident in an interview with the state-run China Daily.
• Business Insider’s Tara Francis Chan reported that Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson also released an apology.
• The hospitality company’s global Twitter accounts have largely remained quiet since January 11, due to the incident.
Many of Marriott International’s global Twitter accounts have stayed silent since January 11, ever since China accused the company of breaking its cybersecurity laws.
Chinese authorities previously shut down the hospitality company’s Chinese website and mobile apps, after discovering it listed Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, and Macao as countries, Business Insider reported. Marriott managers were reportedly called in for questioning over the incident, according to The Associated Press.
In response, Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson issued an apology, saying his company supported “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China,” Business Insider’s Tara Francis Chan reported.
“This is a huge mistake, probably one of the biggest in my career,” Smith told The China Daily. “To regain confidence and trust, the first thing is to admit the mistake, then fix it, and it would come back slowly as we prove we really mean what we say.”
Smith has held the role since June 2015, and previously worked as the president of Marriott International’s Caribbean and Latin American region.
“Asia Pacific is integral to Marriott International achieving its objective of becoming the world’s favourite travel company,” Smith said, in a 2015 interview with Travel Span.
In the interview with China Daily, Smith described the company’s plans to expand “employee education globally,” set up complaint channels for Chinese customers, and oversee “the work of third-party agents for projects largely targeting the China market.”
“A freeze on its social media across the world” was also part of Marriott’s “rectification plan,” the China Daily reported.
Marriott’s main Twitter hasn’t tweeted since January 10, although they have responded to customers’ tweets. It’s the same case for Marriott International, Marriott Rewards, Marriott Rewards Latin America, Marriott Rewards Europe, The London Marriott, Marriott Careers, and Marriott Traveller Asia which all haven’t tweeted anything aside from replies to customers since January 11 or before.
Marriott International refuted the idea the Chinese government unilaterally shut down its social media activity, in a statement to Business Insider.
“As part of our standard operating procedures, we monitor social media every day around the world,” a Marriott International spokesperson said in a statement to Business Insider. “When a major event has the potential to impact our brands or our business operations, we make decisions related to our content strategies accordingly. In this matter, we made the decision to proactively stop social media activity, following our normal protocols. We are in the process of resuming activity globally.”
But GreatFire.org, an organization that tracks censorship in China, tweeted that the social media silence was a result of orders from the Chinese government.
Chinese authorities demanded that Marriott implement a global freeze on all its social media posts. https://t.co/UZu8QutMNQ
— GreatFire.org (@GreatFireChina) January 18, 2018
On Twitter, Bloomberg reporter David Ramli pointed out that the move may serve as a warning sign to other international countries with operations in China.
Almost all of Marriott’s many global accounts stopped tweeting on Jan 10, followed by a capitulating apology on Jan 11. Since then, its accounts have only sent replies. If it turns out this was ordered by Chinese authorities it greatly changes the calculus of doing business here. https://t.co/G8bf2hs6zf
— David Ramli (@Davidramli) January 18, 2018
Francis Chan reported that Marriott isn’t the only company that’s submitted to China’s foreign policy. Zara, Qantas, and Delta all either released apologies or issued “corrections” after they were found to list Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Tibet as countries.
But other companies, including Uniqlo, Uber, H&M, and Amazon still recognize both Hong Kong and Taiwan as countries on their sites.
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