China shuts Marriott’s local website over Tibet, Hong Kong error

Shanghai authorities are probing whether the gaffe in Marriott International’s Mandarin-language questionnaire violated national cyber-security and advertising laws. (AFP)
Updated 12 January 2018
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China shuts Marriott’s local website over Tibet, Hong Kong error

SHANGHAI: Authorities in China have shut down Marriott’s local website for a week after the US hotel giant mistakenly listed Chinese-claimed regions such as Tibet and Hong Kong as separate countries.
Shanghai’s cyberspace authority late Thursday ordered Marriott to close its Chinese website and app for a week and completely clear out illegal and irregular information, according to a government statement.
Marriott’s Chinese website now shows a message with an apology.
“We never support any separatist organization that damages China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” it says.
“We apologize profoundly for any behavior that will cause misunderstanding about the above stance.”
In a customer questionnaire in Mandarin, Marriott asked members of the chain’s customer rewards program to list their country of residence, giving Tibet, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan as possible options.
It triggered an uproar on Chinese social media as Tibet is an “autonomous region” firmly under Chinese control since the 1950s.
Hong Kong and Macau are former British and Portuguese colonies, respectively, that are now “special administrative regions” under China.
Taiwan has been self-ruled since splitting from the mainland after a 1949 civil war, but Beijing continues to claim sovereignty over the island.
Shanghai authorities are probing whether the gaffe in Marriott International’s Mandarin-language questionnaire violated national cyber-security and advertising laws.
“We welcome foreign companies to invest and operate in China, but in the meantime they should respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China, respect our laws and regulations, as well as the feelings of the Chinese people,” foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a regular press briefing.
“I think this is the basic principle for foreign countries to conduct operations and investment in other countries,” Lu said.
While Marriott apologized, public anger further escalated after the official Twitter account of Marriott Rewards liked a tweet from “Friends of Tibet,” an India-based group that supports Tibetan independence and congratulated the hotel chain for listing Tibet as a country.
Marriott president and chief executive Arne Sorenson soon issued a lengthy apology letter, which described the “like” as “careless.”
“Marriott International respects and supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China. Unfortunately, twice this week, we had incidents that suggested the opposite,” said Sorenson.
“Upon completion of a full investigation into how both incidents happened, we will be taking the necessary disciplinary action with respect to the individuals involved, which could include termination.”


The Phoenicia: A still-seductive reminder of Beirut’s golden age

The hotel was named Lebanon’s leading hotel for 2018 at the World Travel Awards. (Photo supplied)
Updated 21 July 2018
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The Phoenicia: A still-seductive reminder of Beirut’s golden age

  • For those in search of glamor, almost every night the wealthy, the stylish and the overdressed can be seen exiting luxury cars
  • The hotel’s immediate interior is dominated by marble pillars, plush armchairs, fountains and chandeliers

BEIRUT: Of all Beirut’s hotels it is the Phoenicia that looms largest in the imagination. Opulent, brash, sexy, seductive, it is a reminder of what was and what could have been.

It’s hard not to look favorably upon its delicately perforated façades and its shimmering blue and turquoise tiles. It somehow manages to maintain a sense of mystique, a sense of otherworldliness, despite the chaos that frequently unfolds around it.

Much of this, of course, is down to nostalgia. Opened in 1961 at the dawn of Beirut’s Golden Age, the singer Fayrouz performed here in 1962, as did the Egyptian dancer Nadia Gamal. Brigitte Bardot, Claudia Cardinale and Omar Sharif were guests, while the Lebanese beauty queen Georgina Rizk was photographed by the hotel’s oval-shaped pool in 1971.

In many ways the Phoenicia still clings to the remnants of its pre-war heyday, living as much in the past as it does in the present. When the hotel was resurrected from the ashes of civil war in 2000, it clutched much of its original design and character close to its chest, with a further $50 million refurbishment undertaken to mark the hotel’s 50th anniversary in 2011. It is the end result of this later refurbishment that is primarily on display today.

The hotel’s immediate interior is dominated by marble pillars, plush armchairs, fountains and chandeliers, and hovers dangerously close to the ostentatious. Elsewhere it borders on the dowdy or the old-fashioned. Yet a grand and elegant staircase continues to welcome visitors, while lanterns and geometric patterns lend a slight but satisfying sense of location.

Outside, the swimming pool — once an oval-shaped beauty — is set against a backdrop of cascading waterfalls. It is more politically correct than its 1960s predecessor, under which could be found a subterranean bar called Sous la Mer, but it is nevertheless at the heart of much of the hotel’s continued appeal.

From the shade of the pool’s colonnades you can see the old St. Georges Hotel, designed in the 1930s by Parisian architect Auguste Perret, while Zaitunay Bay and the edge of the Mediterranean are a stone’s throw away. It is because of this location and these views that the Phoenicia retains much of its appeal, regardless of its 446 rooms and suites, spa, shopping arcade and banqueting area.

Of the hotel’s three buildings, it is the original, designed by the architects Edward Durell Stone and Joseph Salerno, that is the hotel’s aesthetic pinnacle. Combining elements of high modernism with Mughal and Muslim architecture, it is where you should stay if given the choice.

You buy into many things when you stay at the Phoenicia, which was named Lebanon’s leading hotel for 2018 at the World Travel Awards. History, of course, and location, but also a level of abundance that is not readily available elsewhere in the city.

Breakfast is a fabulous affair. Manakish are freshly cooked on a dome oven, eggs are prepared in front of you, while separate stations serve everything from a dizzying array of olives and salads to cheese, labneh, foul, sausages, honey and smoked salmon. There’s even Oum Ali and kanafeh.

For those in search of glamor, almost every night the wealthy, the stylish and the overdressed can be seen exiting luxury cars and heading to all manner of social gatherings. They dine at the Mosaic and Amethyste restaurants, or at Eau De Vie, a lounge bar and grill situated on the 11th floor. None of this, of course, is cheap. If nothing else, the Phoenicia experience comes at a price.