Marriott’s CEO Is Parrotting Chinese President Xi’s Re-Election Talking Points

Marriott has about 100 hotels in China. To do business there is to acquiesce to the country’s leadership. Marriott has consistently towed the party line, as it did two years ago when spanked by the Chinese government for listing Taiwan as a separate country. They fired an hourly worker who ‘liked’ a tweet supporting Taiwanese independence and proactively removed banned books from hotels.

Now the CEO of the hotel chain Arne Sorenson is giving interviews on China’s effectiveness in containing the virus, adopting the country’s talking points and effectively assisting President Xi Jinping shore up a key vulnerability as he prepares for re-election by the Communist Party.

Why China’s Coronavirus Narrative Matters

When we talk about China obfuscating the spread and danger from COVID-19 in its early stages we commit a fundamental error of treating the country as a single political entity.

Local officials, confronted with novel problems, and lacking in specific direction from above, tend to be extremely risk averse. Negative information tends to get suppressed. That suppression isn’t primarily about keeping China from being embarrassed in front of the world, but rather about protecting the political careers of those minor officials. It wasn’t Xi Jinping who ordered doctors silenced as they speculated about a novel coronavirus in Wuhan.

U.S. politicians have placed blame for the virus on ‘China’ when in fact bureaucracies in both countries responded poorly to the threat.

Nonetheless the coronavirus crisis represents perhaps the biggest internal challenge the Chinese President faces as he seeks a third term at the Twentieth Party Congress in late 2022.

It was likely that President Xi himself didn’t know the severity of the situation until late January, and his public appearances and statements don’t begin to put it front and center until a week into February. China let the virus become uncontained. They let it spread. And they didn’t warn the world, likely because information didn’t immediately reach the top. As the grave nature of the threat became clear Xi replaced Vice Premier Sun Chunlan center stage in the country’s response.

China did act aggressively in Wuhan, and President Xi has sought to advance a narrative of decisiveness and effectiveness. The country has shipped personal protective equipment around the world, and sought to tell a story that they beat back the virus while others have been unable to do so and that’s a testament to the success of their political system and to their leaders.

When the virus re-enters China, that’s a threat, and so they lay blame on a foreign version of the virus – ironically pointing fingers at Europe being at fault for infections in China.

China is Leveraging Marriott To Advance Its Narrative Of Covid Success

Why does President Xi’s fortunes in front of the Twentieth Party Congress matter to travel right now? Just as Xi is using the crisis to exert control over Hong Kong, advancing a national security law that will suppress speech and seek to control the narrative there, and plug a major vulnerability that he faces China is leveraging control over U.S. travel companies to advance its narrative on coronavirus success as well.

Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson says Marriott is hurting because countries like the U.S. haven’t been as effective as China at containing the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

A heavy-handed government response to coronavirus, while tough in the short term, may ultimately fuel a faster hotel industry recovery, according to the world’s largest hotel company’s chief executive.

…“You see in China’s response something of the advantage of a powerful central government that can by itself set the rules and by and large get 100 percent compliance,” Sorenson said Thursday during a webinar hosted by the American Hotel & Lodging Association. “They move quickly to implement the kind of restrictions that have, as far as we can tell, a profound impact on the spread of this virus.”

I don’t know what China has told Marriott executives, or what advice Sorenson has been given about his talking points to advance business in the country, but there’s little way to read his narrative other than consistent with talking points of supporters of President Xi Jinping.

Marriott has re-opened all its China hotels. During the COVID crisis, by the way, Marriott hotels were open and turning away Americans as guests because the Chinese government told them to.

The hotel chain has a deep recent history cozying up to dictators. They failed to deflag the Ritz-Carlton in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia when the government there turned the hotel into a prison and torture site.

Maybe that’s what Marriott should be doing, whatever is in its short term financial interest. Their brand doesn’t need to be a social cause. But don’t believe them when they try to cloak their behaviors in social responsibility this-and-that.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. He also frankly just spoke the truth. There is an amazing void in the US at the federal level. You have a lying liar increasing the lies every week. Only 125 or so more days thankfully.

  2. UA-NYC. What is your IQ? Seems pretty low to be taken in by the liberal media.

  3. Isn’t Marriott CEO pretty much true about the US/China comparison? What exactly the flaw you found from his words?

  4. @Wu Zaozhai (wonder where you are from)
    Because we all know how reliable China is in reporting cases…. oh and suppressing information from doctors back in December.

  5. @JohnUSA
    As my name tells, I am from China.
    China did try to play down the severity of the virus at the beginning, similar to Trump telling the public the virus will vanish magically in a few weeks. Now China’s data is on a par with other places in Asia, for example Japan, S. Korea, Taiwan or Singapore, which is a reflection/result of the nation-wide strict health and quarantine practices adopted since late Jan. An authoritarian regime like CCP knows they can’t afford to fail even one time, so they take it seriously and have the spread contained.

  6. Expecting moral courage from Arne is unlikely to pay any dividends. The guy just couldn’t care less about such matters. That’s not even a condemnation, just fact.

  7. Arne runs a hotel company. His job is to build the hotel chain, rent out rooms and make money for his shareholders.

    China is one of the very few places in the world right now that he can perform his function. In many other places, his hotels will stay shut for months more, and continue to lose millions and millions of dollars a day.

    So this does not seem to me to be pandering, but rather an acknowledgment of the facts. Governments that were able to impose a hard lockdown were able to defeat the Coronavirus. I’m no fan of the Chinese government, and what they are doing in Xinjiang amounts to cultural genocide. But you gotta give them a thumbs up on their ability to stop the spread of the disease within the country and get to the point where they were able to safely restart the economy.

  8. I hate so say it, but the facts are the facts. Any hotel chain has a brighter revenue future in China than they do in virus-infested USA.

    Specifically, Sorenson here was updating his original revenue guidance that revenue would recover equally in both the US and China, which is no longer the case.

    What a disservice for this blogger to take a shareholder update out of context (read the entire article) in order to turn it into a political attack. And given that a bumbling idiotic governmental response is threatening his company, he was very restrained in his hinting that the US needs to learn from China and step up its game in the war on cornavirus.

    Are you writing about travel or politics?

  9. Likely we’ll never know the full death toll in Wuhan, but almost certainly many, many times the official line ( …nothing changes…falsification of data goes back to the so-called “Great Leap Forward”…the resultant famine killed 30 million).
    CCP lies, steals, cheats, obfuscates, including to its own people. It will never change.
    Sorenson is a creepy lickspittle/ brown-noser, but that goes with the role, and is necessary to run a foreign business in China

  10. The whole idea of “re-election” in connection with Chinese politics is absurd, though the story clarifies that the only “voters” are those at the Twentieth Party Congress of the Communist Party. Marriott’s conduct is sickening. I get it that they are a private business and can appease dictators, even ones whose cover-up made COVID a lot worse than it needed to be, but it’s important to know.

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