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.
China's internet regulator, the Shanghai Cyberspace Administration, said Friday on its official WeChat page that after receiving reports from internet users, it had ordered the Chinese operators of Zara.cn and Medtronic.com to rectify "illegal contents" on their websites, and to issue a public apology before 6 p.m. local time.
Caixin Global reports that Marriott's including Tibet in the drop-down list was particularly offensive to Weibo commenters as other brands from overseas have previously also listed Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau as "countries" in an English-language context.
Meanwhile, worldwide fashion brand Zara and medical equipment maker Medtronic were ordered by the internet regulator in Shanghai to update their websites after they too were found to have to referred to Taiwan as a country.
For the record, Hong Kong and Macau are special administrative regions (SAR), while Tibet is an autonomous region of the People's Republic of China (PRC or mainland China).
China annexed Tibet in 1950, although Beijing has long claimed the Himalayan region has been an indivisible part of China throughout history. "As one of our most important markets, we are fully committed to China and to our Chinese customers", the company told Reuters. The warnings signal that the country may deploy more sticks against foreign companies that can't risk losing business in the world's second-biggest economy.
Marriott suspended the questionnaire and apologized.
According to the Shanghai Cyberspace Administration, the Marriott incident "hurt the feelings of Chinese people".
Marriott joins a list of foreign brands that have gotten into trouble navigating the complex sensitivities of its Greater China customers in recent years.
"We recognise the severity of the situation and sincerely apologise".
Marriott was also chastised after one of the firm's social media accounts "liked" a post made by a group supporting a separatist Tibet.
Media in China has reported that some travelers have cancelled reservations with Marriott as a response to the errors.