Marriott agreed to shut down its Chinese website for one week. Two months later, it returned – missing a key feature.

(Photo by russell davies via flickr – CC BY-NC 2.0)

 

In January 2018, after an email gaffe obliged Marriott to apologize to the Chinese government (an incident we explored in a previous post), Marriott complied with a government request to shut down its websites and apps in the country.[1] Several outlets reported that sites would be shut down by the government for a week.[2]

What was less widely reported was that Marriott’s Chinese website was unavailable for at least two months – and returned without the ability to directly book hotel rooms.

For two months, Chinese citizens were redirected to an error message

On January 11th, 2018, Marriott’s Chinese website (www.marriott.com.cn/default.mi) changed from a searchable site to an error message.[3]

Marriott’s Chinese website on 1/11/18, before the shutdown (archived screenshot via Internet Archive)

Error message displayed on Marriott’s Chinese website on 1/11/18 (archived screenshot via Internet Archive)

 

The error message echoed the statement of apology that Marriott had already released: “Marriott International Group respects China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We will absolutely not support any separatist organization that undermines China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We deeply apologize for any possible misunderstanding of the above positions.”[4]

By the middle of the next week, January 18th, the website redirected to another notice. This message promised that the website would return the following week.[5]

Marriott’s website redirected to this notice on 1/18/18 (archived screenshot via Internet Archive)

 

More than a week later, on January 30th, the website redirected to a new maintenance message: “We’re sorry, the site is closed and we’re working hard to fix system errors including search assistance and update the site. Thank you for your patience.”[6]

Marriott’s website directed to a maintenance message on 1/30/18 (archived screenshot via Internet Archive)

 

Marriott’s website returned after two months – without the ability to directly book hotels

Based on the copies of the Marriott website captured by the Internet Archive, the earliest Marriott’s website was restored was March 23rd, more than two months after Marriott’s apology.[7] But the website lacked a key feature – the ability to directly book a hotel room.

The restored website offered visitors a link to the Marriott app, the Marriott Rewards WeChat Service Number, and a telephone number to reach customer service. The website did not offer a search bar to search for hotel availability, unlike the original version of the site.

The inability to make a direct booking through the website is all the more perplexing in light of Marriott’s stated goal of paying less to online travel agents.[8]

On April 27, Marriott announced the launch of a redesigned storefront page on Fliggy, Alibaba’s travel service platform.[9] We will take a look at that new website in an upcoming post.

 

Marriott has not addressed the implications of the website shutdown

Marriott did not publicly address the length of the website shutdown, nor announce that it had been restored, in its U.S. press releases.

Asked a question about the Chinese website shutdown on an investor earnings call in February, Arne Sorenson stated, “We don’t expect there to be a measurable impact to our financial results. Now, to be fair, that depends on our not making more mistakes in this space, which we’re doing everything in our power to avoid doing.”[10] Whether this prediction turned out to be true will be revealed on May 8th, when Marriott releases its first quarter earnings results.[11]

 

[1] Abha Bhattarai, “China asked Marriott to shut down its website. The company complied.,” Washington Post, 1/18/18. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/business/wp/2018/01/18/china-demanded-marriott-change-its-website-the-company-complied/?utm_term=.f12a5b4f362f

[2] Neil Connor, “China shuts down Marriott website for a week after hotel chain listed Tibet and Hong Kong as countries,” The Telegraph, 1/12/18. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/01/12/china-shuts-marriott-website-week-hotel-chain-listed-tibet-hong/; Pei Li and Brenda Goh, “Shanghai temporarily closes Marriott website in China after questionnaire gaffe,” Reuters, 1/11/18. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-marriott/shanghai-temporarily-closes-marriott-website-in-china-after-questionnaire-gaffe-idUSKBN1F00UT; Sofia Lotto Persio, “Marriott China Apology: American Hotel Chain Website Shut Down After Taiwan, Tibet Gaffe,” Newsweek, 1/11/18. http://www.newsweek.com/marriott-hotel-china-apologizes-survey-challenging-beijings-territorial-claims-777763.

[3] Compare the version of the Marriott Chinese website captured earlier on 1/11/18 (marriott.com.cn/default.mi, screen capture 1/11/18 @ 01:15:04, Internet Archive (Wayback Machine), retrieved 4/13/18. https://web.archive.org/web/20180111011504/http://www.marriott.com.cn/default.mi) to the version captured later that day (marriott.com.cn/default.mi, screen capture 1/11/18 @ 23:39:06, Internet Archive (Wayback Machine), retrieved 4/13/18. https://web.archive.org/web/20180111233906/http://www.marriott.com.cn/default.mi).

[4] See marriott.com.cn/default.mi, screen capture 1/11/18 @ 23:39:06, Internet Archive (Wayback Machine), retrieved 4/13/18. https://web.archive.org/web/20180111233906/http://www.marriott.com.cn/default.mi. Translation our own.

[5] Site notice: marriott.com/marriott/mcomcn/sitenotice.mi, screen capture 1/18/18 @ 01:31:52, Internet Archive (Wayback Marchine), retrieved 4/13/18. https://web.archive.org/web/20180118013152/http://www.marriott.com/marriott/mcomcn/sitenotice.mi; redirected from Marriott.com.cn/default.mi, crawled 1/18/18 @ 01:32:16, Internet Archive (Wayback Machine), retrieved 4/16/18. https://web.archive.org/web/20180118013216/http://www.marriott.com.cn/default.mi.

[6] Maintenance message: marriott.com/marriott/maintenance-cn.mi, screen capture 1/30/18 @05:24:52, Internet Archive (Wayback Machine), retrieved 4/13/18. https://web.archive.org/web/20180130052452/http://www.marriott.com/marriott/maintenance-cn.mi; redirected from Marriott.com.cn/default.mi, crawled 1/30/18 @ 03:19:49, Internet Archive (Wayback Machine), retrieved 4/16/18. https://web.archive.org/web/20180130031949/http://www.marriott.com.cn/default.mi. Translation our own.

[7] Restored website: Marriott.com.cn, screen capture 3/23/18 @ 16:34:28, Internet Archive (Wayback Machine), retrieved 4/13/18. https://web.archive.org/web/20180323163428/http://www.marriott.com.cn/.

[8] Ankit Ajmera, “Marriott aims to cut commissions for online agencies: CEO,” Reuters, 4/3/18. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-marriott-intnl-india-onlinetravel/marriott-aims-to-cut-commissions-for-online-agencies-ceo-idUSKCN1HA1U3

[9] “Marriott International Elevates Travel Experience For Chinese Consumers With Enhanced Mobile Functionality And Global Wallet-Free Travel,” Marriott News Center, 4/27/18. http://news.marriott.com/2018/04/marriott-international-elevates-travel-experience-for-chinese-consumers-with-enhanced-mobile-functionality-and-global-wallet-free-travel/.

[10] Transcript of 4Q17 earnings call, Marriott, 2/15/18, p. 20. http://files.shareholder.com/downloads/MAR/5691911320x0x972253/9A46AEDC-4AEF-4222-85AB-2B1F85543903/MAR_Q4_Earnings_TRANSCRIPT_FINAL_2-15-18.pdf.

[11] “Marriott International Announces Release Date For First Quarter 2018 Earnings,” Marriott News Center (press release), 4/2/18. http://news.marriott.com/2018/04/marriott-international-announces-release-date-for-first-quarter-2018-earnings/.