Marriott forced to issue apology after China error

Cheryl Sanders
January 13, 2018

China's cyberspace administration and market supervision bureau of Huangpu district said they had conducted interviews with Marriott hotel representatives in China and ordered all related content to be removed from its website and mobile application.

"We welcome foreign companies to invest and operate in China, but in the meantime they should respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China, respect our laws and regulations, as well as the feelings of the Chinese people", foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a regular press briefing.

Marriott International has gotten in trouble for accidentally including Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau in a list of countries. China claims Taiwan - an independent, democratically-run island - as a renegade region to be reunified with the mainland in the not-too-distant future.

Chinese authorities also took action against Delta Airlines on Friday for the same offense.

There are some key takeaway lessons from Marriott's recent blunder, and they revolve around how the Chinese government sees itself in relation to private businesses and Beijing's understanding of history and its place in it.

Both Zara and Medtronic had apologized and updated their websites by Friday evening.

"We recognise the severity of the situation and sincerely apologise".

Marriott International Group executives were questioned by Shanghai police in an investigation of possible violation of cybersecurity laws, according to news reports.

The two companies complied with the request and also issued public apologies on their Chinese websites.

Tibet is officially an "autonomous region" but firmly under Chinese control. According to the BBC, Marriott's global site is still available in China, but its Chinese language version is blocked.

Marriott International, Inc. (NASDAQ: MAR) is based in Bethesda, Maryland, USA, and encompasses a portfolio of more than 6,100 properties in 30 leading hotel brands spanning 124 countries and territories. "Unfortunately, twice this week, we had incidents that suggested the opposite", the company's President and CEO Arne Sorenson said in the statement.

Marriott's troubles should also drive home for foreign businesses operating in China or hoping to cater to Chinese tourists that understanding how Beijing understands history is key to not running afoul of the Chinese government.

Investing in partnerships with locals who can audit and help with marketing and communications, localizing websites and social platforms, should be considered a core-requirement of doing business internationally.

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