Luxury Hotels

Marriott in more trouble after ‘liking’ Twitter post by Tibetan independence group

Boss of hotel group blames latest gaffe on ‘individual’ employee, as Chinese internet users call for boycott

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 January, 2018, 5:23pm
UPDATED : Friday, 12 January, 2018, 5:27pm

US hotel giant Marriott has come under a new round of fire after one of its Twitter accounts was found to have “liked” and shared a post congratulating it over a gaffe in which it listed Chinese-claimed regions like Tibet and Hong Kong as independent countries.

Authorities in Shanghai shut down the company’s Chinese website and launched an investigation after it emailed a Chinese-language questionnaire to its customers in which Tibet, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan were named as countries.

Despite issuing five public apologies since the initial outcry, a fresh controversy was sparked when Chinese internet users discovered that the company’s Twitter account for its loyalty programme had “liked” and shared a post by Friends of Tibet, which campaigns for independence for the region, soon after the first apology was issued.

Chinese probe into Marriott hotels over geography gaffe in customer survey

The post congratulated the hotel group for listing Tibet as a country, along with Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Internet users accused Marriott of insincerity.

“What exactly does the group want? Marriott has always been my top choice and I will let it pass if it corrects the slip of listing Tibet as a country. But liking the post of a separatist [group] shows Marriot supports separation,” wrote an internet user with the name Uncle Renyi.

Other people called for a boycott of the hotel, while Chinese booking platforms, including Dianping and Meituan, withdrew Marriott properties from their systems.

The company’s President and CEO Arne Sorenson described the Twitter gaffe as “misconduct by an individual member of staff”.

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In his latest apology, made on Thursday after the “like” had been removed from the Twitter account, Sorenson said: “Marriott International respects and supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China. Unfortunately, twice this week, we had incidents that suggested the opposite.”

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Friday that foreign companies in China should respect the nation’s laws and sovereignty.

“I want to stress that Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Tibet are part of China. This is an objective fact that is recognised by the international community,” he said.

“We welcome foreign companies to invest in China. At the same time, foreign companies operating in China should respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, obey China’s law and respect the national sentiment of Chinese people. This is the basic of any companies that want to invest in a foreign country.”

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The questionnaire that started the dispute was sent to members of the hotel’s loyalty and rewards programme. The document was published in both English and Mandarin, but the geographical gaffe appeared only in the Chinese-language version. The questionnaire was later withdrawn.

The Shanghai Cyberspace Administration on Wednesday ordered the group to shut down its Chinese website and app for a week from Thursday evening to “thoroughly clear all erroneous information”.

The Shanghai Tourism Administration also summoned the “person in charge” of the group’s Shanghai branch and ordered the company to severely punish the employees responsible for the incident, news portal reported.