The Marriott International hotel chain has apologised and condemned “separatists” in China after the Beijing government shut down its website over an online questionnaire that suggested some Chinese regions were separate countries.
China’s Cyberspace Administration, the internet watchdog, said the hotelier had “seriously violated national laws and hurt the feelings of the Chinese people” after a customer survey listed Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau as separate countries. The regulator ordered Marriott’s website and booking applications to close for a week.
The company, which operates more than 100 hotels in China, quickly responded with a profuse apology distancing itself from charges of supporting separatist movements.
“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,” the company said in a statement. “We sincerely apologise for any actions that may have suggested otherwise.”
The company’s Chinese website was replaced with a similar statement, adding it was only taking reservations over the phone. Marriott has previously described China as its biggest market.
Chinese troops marched into Tibet in 1950 to bring the region under Beijing’s control while Hong Kong and Macau were returned to China in the 1990s after colonial rule, although both are governed separately from the mainland.
While China claims Taiwan, the island has been governed separately since 1949 and maintains formal diplomatic relations with a handful of countries.
The Chinese government frequently erupts with outrage at any perceived contradiction to its territorial claims, claiming such statements upset all of China’s 1.4 billion citizens. Even local activists who have called for greater autonomy for regions within China have faced harsh prison sentences.
Many on social media echoed that outrage. Some travellers were cancelling their reservations in response, according to Chinese media reports.
“Everyone should do the same as me and abandon [Marriott] in protest. Let’s all switch to Hilton,” one user wrote on social media.
Dozens of other comments had a simpler message: “Marriott, get out of China.”
China’s tourism regulator ordered other hotel operators to review their own websites to avoid similar mistakes.