China Shuts Down Marriott Site and Demands Apology From Delta Air Lines

Borders can be fascinating. Some are formed by natural terrain; while others are created entirely by humans. We tend to cross them to experience difference cultures; try new cuisine; and meet new people — as well as rack up countries and other independent entities to our portfolios of places we have traveled…

China Shuts Down Marriott Site and Demands Apology From Delta Air Lines

…but they can also be bones of contention, as both Marriott International, Incorporated and Delta Air Lines have found out this past week. At the time this article was written, the Internet web site of Marriott — as well as the mobile software application software — was in the middle of being shut down for a week in China by government officials in Shanghai as the result of the largest lodging company in the world claiming Tibet, Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan as separate countries in a survey sent via e-mail message to members of Marriott Rewards.

A second gaffe occurred shortly thereafter when an employee of Marriott “liked” a message posted at the Twitter account of Friends of Tibet, suggesting support for its position — that message was subsequently deleted — and the following “tweet” was posted in response:

Arne Sorenson — who is the president and chief executive officer of Marriott International, Incorporated — announced in this very carefully worded statement on Thursday, January 11, 2018:

Marriott International respects and supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China. Unfortunately, twice this week, we had incidents that suggested the opposite: First, by incorrectly labelling certain regions within China, including Tibet, as countries in a drop-down menu on a survey we sent out to our loyalty members; and second, in the careless “like” by an associate of a tweet that incorrectly suggested our support of this position. Nothing could be further from the truth: we don’t support anyone who subverts the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China and we do not intend in any way to encourage or incite any such people or groups. We recognize the severity of the situation and sincerely apologize.

In the aftermath of these two events, here’s what we have done.  As soon as we became aware of the issue with the survey, we worked to take it down and make the necessary corrections. We also reviewed the other areas on our websites and apps where this type of functionality might exist to make sure the labeling is correct. In China, at the request of the Government, we have taken down our Chinese websites and apps to conduct a full review and audit. We also quickly un-“liked” the tweet on our official channel and posted a statement of apology on Twitter.

Upon completion of a full investigation into how both incidents happened, we will be taking the necessary disciplinary action with respect to the individuals involved, which could include termination, changing our approval and review procedures for online content, reviewing our customer feedback channels, and enhancing training to ensure these situations don’t happen again. We are also working closely and co-operating with the relevant Government authorities in China.

As a company, we take very seriously the privilege and opportunity we have to serve guests in countries around the world – and particularly in China, a market we have been in for over 30 years. We also take responsibility when we make mistakes. We will learn from this experience, make changes to ensure errors like this don’t happen again, and continue to focus on making sure our Chinese guests feel respected and have wonderful experiences as we have the privilege of serving them in our hotels in China and around the globe.

After the Civil Aviation Administration of China demanded that Delta Air Lines apologize immediately and publicly for listing Taiwan and Tibet as countries on its Internet web site, Delta Air Lines claimed to have recognized the seriousness of this issue and initiated immediate steps to resolve it. In a prepared statement which was sent via e-mail message, “It was an inadvertent error with no business or political intention, and we apologize deeply for the mistake. As one of our most important markets, we are fully committed to China and to our Chinese customers.”

Marriott International, Incorporated and Delta Air Lines were not the only companies which were admonished for their actions, as other companies outside of the travel industry were also criticized for similar practices.

Summary

These incidents remind me of when Palestine was listed in the terms and conditions for a promotion offered by Best Western in September of 2016 — but Israel was not listed

…and then again, at least one region exists which no country wants to claim — in this case, Egypt and Sudan over a barren piece of land called Bir Tawil.

When I first saw this message from Marriott on Twitter on Wednesday, January 10, 2018…

Marriott International respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China. We don’t support separatist groups that subvert the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China. We sincerely apologize for any actions that may have suggested otherwise.

…I initially did not know what to think of it — but according to this message posted on Twitter, Friends of Tibet is considering both a “civil and criminal defamation suit against The International, Inc for its ‘Separatist Group’ remark.”

I am not knowledgeable enough to offer insight pertaining to the highly sensitive politics of China and its relationships with Tibet, Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan — I will leave that to readers of The Gate to debate that topic in the Comments section below, if you would like to do so — but this appears to be an issue which Marriott cannot seem to win…

…and it also sends a cautionary message to multinational companies who do business in China and other countries in which they are not headquartered or based as to how geographic locations are listed.

In the meantime, the official web site of Marriott International, Incorporated should once again be visible in China on Thursday, January 18, 2018.

View from an airplane near Shanghai Pudong International Airport prior to landing. Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

2 thoughts on “China Shuts Down Marriott Site and Demands Apology From Delta Air Lines”

  1. Mike L says:

    Communism at its finest.

  2. Mike Jones says:

    This is not communism. Communism is just the cover for totalitarianism.

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