Marriott International has been forced to issue a grovelling apology to authorities in China after the hotel giant incorrectly labelled Tibet and Taiwan as independent countries in a survey sent out to loyalty members.
To compound the error, Marriott also suggested its support for this position by liking a post on Facebook, a move it blamed on a “careless” associate.
China views with Tibet and Taiwan as integral to its territory and reacted furiously to the mistake.
In response, the country’s internet regulator has accused Marriott International of breaking Chinese law and ordered it to close its Chinese website and online booking applications for a week.
Officials said Marriott had “seriously violated national laws and hurt the feelings of the Chinese people”.
In response, Marriott chief executive Arne Sorenson said: “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 recognise the severity of the situation and sincerely apologise.
“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 labelling 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.”
Marriott has now begun an investigation.
Sorenson added: “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.
Marriott currently has more than 100 properties in China.
Hong Kong and Macau were also offered as possible choices for a guest’s country of origin in the survey, further enraging Chinese authorities.
The former colonies of Hong Kong and Macau have been Beijing-ruled since the 1990s, but retain some autonomy from the mainland.
In a statement, Sorenson continued: “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.”