Hotel giant Marriott has announced an “eight-point rectification plan” after it triggered an online uproar with a customer questionnaire that listed Hong Kong, Macau, Tibet and Taiwan as separate countries.

Marriott shut down its Chinese website for a week following investigation by Shanghai authorities, before it was relaunched again on Wednesday. However, a Chinese statement detailing its rectification plan had disappeared from its website as of Friday.

Craig S. Smith, president and managing director of Marriott’s Asia-Pacific office, apologised in an interview with state media outlet China Daily. “This is a huge mistake, probably one of the biggest in my career,” Smith said.

Craig S. Smith marriott
Craig S. Smith. Photo: Twitter/Wikicommons.

“To regain confidence and trust, the first thing is to admit the mistake, then fix it, and it would come back slowly as we prove we really mean what we say.”

The rectification plan – to be conducted within 90 days from Wednesday – includes expanding employee education globally, improving mechanisms to approve content, creating a more convenient complaints channel for Chinese customers, studying Chinese regulations better, and more strictly supervising the work of third-party contractors.

“Marriott International will strengthen communication mechanism with Chinese government departments to actively seek advice and direction from government departments, strengthen understanding of relevant regulations, and understand the spirit of policies,” the statement read.

Marriott International
Photo: Screenshot.

The statement said Marriott International respects and is determined to defend China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity: “Last week, we made two serious mistakes that contradicted this stance.”

The group has terminated its contract with the third-party vendor which built the survey. It was a Canadian company that Marriott said it had been working with for a long time.

“It’s a company we hired, but we are responsible. Our responsibility is to check it and we have failed to do so,” Smith told China Daily.

The hotel brand previously apologised for a staff member “carelessly” liking a tweet by a pro-Tibetan independence group that congratulated Marriott “for listing Tibet as a country along with Hong Kong and Taiwan.”

It said it has since fired the US-based employee.

Australia’s Qantas airline, Spanish clothing giant Zara, Delta Air Lines and Medtronic — a medical device company — were also called out for listing Tibet, Taiwan and Hong Kong as separate countries.

They have all either released apologies or issued “corrections.”

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.