Luxury hotels leap over Great Firewall to access Twitter and Facebook
George Chen and Celine Sun
Guests at some luxury hotels in Shanghai, Beijing and other major cities have been surprised to access Facebook and Twitter - the social media services banned on the mainland for years.
They connect to the services using mobile phones in the hotels' lobbies, where Wi-fi is provided, or through laptops via high-speed broadband in their rooms. Guests at the Grand Hyatt and the Park Hyatt in Shanghai have reported success in connecting to the sites.
"We started to offer internet accesses to foreign sites like Facebook and Twitter from June this year. It's because many of our customers are overseas business clients. They hope to be able to use foreign sites. So we moved our internet servers from Shanghai to Hong Kong," a spokesman for the Park Hyatt in Shanghai said.
The spokesman said he understood the hotel would have had "communications with the local government" before it gave guests access to foreign sites. A spokesman for the Grand Hyatt in Shanghai also confirmed guests at the hotel had access to foreign sites.
It is common for multinationals to connect to servers outside the mainland via private leased lines to allow staff to get around firewalls. Some luxury hotels are apparently using the grey area to give such access to customers.
Two travellers who stayed at the St Regis Beijing hotel in July and early August said they could access the sites while connected to broadband in their rooms. A hotel spokeswoman confirmed it used to offer internet service with access to overseas servers that allowed guests to access Facebook. But the service was suspended on August 16 due to technical issues.
A spokeswoman for Hilton hotels in China said in-house guests used to have access to Facebook and Twitter because Hilton used an internet server outside the mainland. But recently the group decided to suspend the access due to a "new internal arrangement".
Not every five-star hotel wants to test Beijing's bottom line on internet control.
A spokeswoman for Marriott said: "We look to satisfy our guests' needs all the time. However, we do not break the law. Our hotels do not have access outside the China firewall. We follow government policy strictly."