Marriott fires the wrong guy in China/Tibet SNAFU


In mid-January Marriott included Taiwan Tibet (and Taiwan, but Tibet was the bigger issue) in a list of countries that was sent to some email survey recipients in China. That did not go over well. The email and the survey were managed by a third party and the hotel chain cut ties with that vendor but not before it was forced to apologize profusely to the Chinese government. It also had its website taken offline for a week as punishment for the transgression.

There was more to the incident than just the country list in a survey. There was also a tweet. Clicking the “like” button on that tweet appears to have cost one Marriott service rep his job.



Roy Jones was working his regular night shift at Marriott’s customer engagement center when a tweet from “Friends of Tibet” came through mentioning the company with a hashtag and thanking it for listing Tibet separately. It was a positive comment amidst some complaints about the “incident” so Jones clicked the little heart from Marriott’s account, acknowledging the recognition. That proved to be a fire-worthy mistake.

I’m acutely familiar with the risks of an ill-timed tweet or social media kerfuffle. I’ve had a contract terminated over comments I made on Twitter. But it still seems a stretch that this guy deserved to be on the chopping block for that action. Especially if his work performance was otherwise reasonable.

I also wonder who else in the organization faced similar punishment. Was the manager who hired the 3rd party vendor that sent the email also fired? Surely they are equally, if not more culpable for the mess. After all, it was their decision that led to the Tibet emails in the first place.



There’s also some irony in punishing someone for behavior considered offensive to China on a service based in the United States and which China blocks aggressively. This was not a push on Weibo to highlight the Tibetan independence push. It was a tweet that the vast majority of Chinese would never know existed, much less engage with.

But the low man on the totem pole gets cut off from an online customer service job for not being fully versed in geopolitical subtleties. Not transferred to answer phone calls. Not warned. Not educated. Not suspended.

Fired.

Somewhere, somehow that made sense to someone at Marriott.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

17 Comments

  1. Are you confusing Taiwan and Tibet? Both could rankle China, but Tibet much worse. And the photo seems to say Tibet. But the headline says Taiwan and the first line. But thereafter seems to center on Tibet.

    1. Yeah…I screwed that up. Listing Taiwan separately is also bad but the Tibet bit was the real issue here.

  2. Agreed that it was heavy-handed, but I doubt anyone at Marriott thought this was a good idea. I think that in the face of a perceived slight against its national interest, China demands severe action. It’s not fair, it’s not right, but it’s political reality for the company regardless of whether the poor rep understood what he was getting into or not.

    1. I get that at some level. I still think it sucks. Mostly because it isn’t really delivering severe action in the way it should. Yes, it is severe, but it doesn’t address the underlying training or political issues. If there are going to be punitive actions they should affect the people positioned to actually screw things up that are within their job description. I cannot imagine that “understand the ‘One China’ policy and act within its guidelines at all times” is in any customer service job description there.

      It comes across to me as management protecting its own while sacrificing someone who didn’t know any better. That’s poor leadership and bad for morale. How many of those agents are now scared for their job based on what their next interaction online is??

  3. I am curious that if it were Catalonia instead of Tibet or Taiwan and the government of Spain complaints. Do you have the same level of reaction (unfair), or slightly different level (more unfair or less unfair) of reaction, on the firing of the Marriott service rep?

    1. If Marriott listed Catalonia as a separate country that would be a mistake IMO. If a CSR got fired for liking a tweet about such that would also be a mistake IMO.

  4. Shame on Marriott (and the rest of Corporate America that’s willing to kowtow to the Chinese regime). Google was willing to stand up against China (poor Google shareholders, nursing their almost 200% stock price gain over the last 5 years), but not Marriott.

    Congratulations to China for projecting their censorship on the rest of the world.

    Is Taiwan a country? Um…last I heard, they had free and fair elections.
    Is Tibet a country? Maybe not, but by that standard, Crimea, and whoever else a bigger power decides shouldn’t be a country, won’t be a country.

  5. I think it’s a pretty big faux pas and someone working in Marriott social media should know about the One China policy. How would we feel if a French guy from Accor liked the posting of some guys in robes with pointy hats and a Confederate flag, because it said that Motel 6 sheets make great KKK robes? Marriott is a global brand and China is its biggest market outside of North America, and probably its fastest growing.

    And Robert- Crimea? Not a country. It might have formerly been part of Ukraine before it was a part of the USSR, but definitely not a country.

    1. Yes but Ukraine is. So by extension, any part of any country can be decided as not a country. Just depends on what Russia or China or any other authoritarian regime with a big enough army thinks.

    2. But your point is “should know”. The fact he didn’t is a question of training. and that’s the original point. They fire some low ranking person just above minimum wage to appease a dictatorial regime, rather than the higher up who should have read that survey and caught that detail before approving it for use. A sacrificial lamb to appease Xi. I am concerned about the larger trend of American and Western companies doing the bidding of an increasingly assertive Chinese government as the price of doing business there, and think much less of Marriott for its actions.

      1. “Should know” in that it’s not part of his training, it’s a basic requirement to do the job. “Liking” things on behalf of the official twitter channel makes you a spokesman for the company, you need to know basic facts about the world.

        Its like that Senator’s aide in Florida, who got fired for telling CNN that the kids were actors; if you are going to talk to the press on behalf of your office, it’s unwise to rely on fake news as your main source of facts. He should have know better as well.

        As for the people with the biggest army deciding what are parts of their country- isn’t that how it always worked? 157 years ago, our Federal government decided that a bunch of Southern states had to be a part of the USA by force, and we generally think that is a good thing.

        Ancient history? So China asserted control over Tibet 67 years ago- that’s also pretty old for us to continue to claim it’s a separate country. And 64 years ago, the Crimea was a part of Russia (and had been for centuries before that).

  6. I told Arne Sorenson’s speechwriter/admin assistant that I didn’t like the direction the entire industry was going in China, and wouldn’t you know her promise to have Arne become a connection (one of her admin jobs was running Arne’s LinkedIn page) never happened.

    1. George- you have a good point, but the history of Tibet in China is far longer than 67 years, and this has nothing to do with the big army of China.

      In 1720 Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty entered Tibet to resolve internal conflicts. Since then the title of Dalai Lama was officially granted by Qing Emperors and each new successor of the title needs be granted by the Qing Emperor. In 1903 the British, taking advantage of the turmoils in China, entered Tibet from India, but eventually left after the Massacre of Chumik Shenko. In 1911 Republic of China (ROC) revolution overturned the last Qing emperor. The ROC constitution has a special chapter on Tibet in its list of territories, In 1949 People’s Republic of China (PRC) won the civil war and take over the mainland, with the ROC government retreated to Taiwan, but its constitution including Tibet remains effective as of today.

      So Tibet being territory of China would have been 198 years if you start counting from Qing, or 107 years if you start counting from ROC. That is why Dalai Lama even as of today continues to claim that he is only seeking a high degree of autonomy, not Tibet independence. And internationally there is zero controversy to the legal status of Tibet being a part of China.

  7. In 1720 Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty entered Tibet to resolve internal conflicts. Since then the title of Dalai Lama was officially granted by Qing Emperors and each new successor of the title needs be granted by the Qing Emperor. In 1903 the British, taking advantage of the turmoils in China, entered Tibet from India, but eventually left after the Massacre of Chumik Shenko. In 1911 Republic of China (ROC) revolution overturned the last Qing emperor. The ROC constitution has a special chapter on Tibet in its list of territories, In 1949 People’s Republic of China (PRC) won the civil war and take over the mainland, with the ROC government retreated to Taiwan, but its constitution including Tibet remains effective as of today.

    So Tibet being territory of China would have been 198 years if you start counting from Qing, or 107 years if you start counting from ROC. That is why Dalai Lama even as of today continues to claim that he is only seeking a high degree of autonomy, not Tibet independence. And internationally there is zero controversy to the legal status of Tibet being a part of China.

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