Marriott’s New CEO Continues To Flatter China’s Authoritarian Rulers

While Covid-19 originated in China, and Chinese President Xi Jinping was slow to react, their narrative to the world – and a domestic audience – has been the strength of their response once put into gear. Covid-19 represented an existential threat to Chinese leadership, and President Xi has turned his eventual response into a key argument for his election to a third term at the Twentieth Party Congress in late 2022.

Late Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson lent international support for this argument. Sorenson knew that crushing the pandemic through any means necessary was good for travel and the hotel business. And he knew that flattering Chinese officials and supporting their narratives is key to staying in their good graces. China is a key growth market for Marriott.

New Marriott CEO Tony Capuano appears to be taking a similar approach. In a recent interview he offered (emphasis mine),

In the short term, there is an important and obvious relationship between the rollout of the vaccines, the ability of certain governments to start to get their arms around the virus, and the impact that has on traveler confidence and related demand growth.

China might be the best illustration of that. The government there has largely gotten their arms around the virus. They’ve done a good job of broad distribution of the vaccine and, perhaps not surprisingly, we’ve seen occupancy levels essentially return to pre-pandemic levels. What is most notable in China is a disproportionate share of that demand recovery has been domestic travel, as opposed to international travel. But China provides a great road map for other markets around the world as they look to chart their recovery.

Let’s be clear first on what Chinese-style lockdowns as a response to the novel coronavirus meant. People were boarded into homes, which in some cases became tombs. There’s mass forced testing which now includes anal swabs. In Hong Kong democracy was literally put on hold with elections postponed (coronavirus was an excuse, leadership didn’t prefer the likely outcome). So is China a great roadmap?

In any case, the claim that China has done a good job distributing vaccines is simply not true at this point.

I tend to think Sinopharm’s vaccine is underrated, though the UAE is starting to give out third doses to some people due to weak immune response. Sinovac’s reported efficacy against symptomatic Covid is just 50% The same extensive data on Chinese vaccines, though, hasn’t been published compared to that of Western vaccines.

China, though, only recognizes its own vaccines for vaccine passports based on new rules for entry from Hong Kong.

The Chinese vaccines don’t appear to be as good as Western vaccines. And the government doesn’t appear to be scaling production and distribution even as well as Europe, which has performed poorly. If ‘full Wuhan’ was one model for response early in the pandemic, China appears to be failing at this next critical stage. Most of its people remain (presumably) vulnerable to the virus, since it hasn’t spread widely within the country and its people remain unvaccinated. Much of the rest of the world will be able to open international borders more easily than China.

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. Is this not the fair equivalent of praising the murderer for feeling guilty after the fact and apologizing to the family?

  2. Come on, a CEO with a sizable operations in China knows much more and much better than the keyboard warrior Gary.

  3. Another example of the disconnect between how elite leaders treat China and what everyone else thinks.

  4. @Mar Amb – but he is wrong on the facts, see actual data on vaccinations. And this isn’t about having on the ground details, it is a value judgment that ‘full Wuhan’ authoritarianism is good.

  5. @Mar Amb – funny that you think that Marriott having “sizable operation in China” means that its CEO has special knowledge of what’s going on in China and is going to speak the truth. It’s pretty clear that all it means is that he has to tow the Chinese Communist Party line or else his company will get wrecked.

  6. China expects its economy will soon surpass the United States, enabling it to become the world leader on a variety of fronts. China’s Communist Party is feeling its oats and is becoming more assertive about swinging its (economic, political, and military) hammer wherever it wants.

    The U.S. took a step back from the world leadership role under the previous administration, and once given up, some things are hard to get back. These are interesting times we live in.

  7. Meanwhile in the USA where “lockdown” is comically enforced, 550k people lost their lives.

  8. Marriott: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. The company’s behavior shows just how far they’ve strayed from the principles that they used to represent. Any moral high ground they used to stand on has sunken into a deep moral pit.

  9. @Edward Thomas
    Did you forget how many exclusive deals Ivanka Trump got in China and the hotels Trump has in China?

  10. Maybe Gary is unaware that most Marriott hotels that are operating at pre-pandemic level is in China. The Chinese authoritarianism covid response saved Marriott business in China – fact.

  11. Marriott revenue in North America is down >60% Q420 while revenue in China is down less than 10%. Is the CEO supposed to curse at the authoritarian covid response of China? Good question.

  12. In fairness to Marriott, the globalist controlled media/academia/corporate America/local-state-federal governments demand the same thing in the U.S. as China. If you are white/Christian/conservative you are not allowed to have a voice in America. If you do, Marriott will ban you or target you or subject you to anti white/anti Christian/anti conservative propaganda.

  13. @Rick James – are you suggesting that US CEOs should flatter authoritarian leaders of foreign countries who ____ [insert your preferred group that is imprisoned, tortured, or otherwise deprived of basic rights]?

    Are you saying they should be immune from criticism when they do?

  14. Gary, did the CEO praise Chinese for imprisoning, torturing, or otherwise depriving people of basic rights? If you don’t stay on the matter and pivot to something else, I am afraid we don’t have a productive conversation.

  15. @Daniel: I will say it’s less about the government, but more on the people who contribute to the situation. Most western countries (with the exception of a couple island countries) regardless lockdown measures, and conservative or liberal govs, suffer mightily in this crisis, same goes for US states. At the mean time, all eastern countries are faring much better, regardless of their government types or measures. Just look at what happened last night in Miami beach, that’s the reason we are where we are today. Living in the Asian community in the US, we don’t hear any single one in the community, friend, or friend’s friend got this virus, because we all took extreme caution and follow extreme protocols. So most (not all, obviously likes of critical workers or nursing homes residents did not have a choice) of those affected people, took those on themselves.
    I am not saying who is right or wrong. Eastern people generally treat living as the single most important value. People in the West have diverse believes, and some value things differently. It’s just different way of lives that people enjoy for many many years, but unfortunately under direct attack in crisis like this. Fortunately, we are close to the end of it, and hopefully the same diverse values will bring us back to prosperity.

  16. @Gary Leff It is only because Jeff hate China and CCP, so everything China done is wrong…..yes there are a few Wuhan family lock down became tombs in the beginning, but how many NA long term care center became outbreaks bombs and till now who took responsible for it? Nobody!…..for the Anal test, China begin test some close contact with anal test this year, millions of people in NA are asymptomatic how many of them get test CT? none right? even you are symptomatic if you are not serious enough you won’t get a X-Ray and CT just tell you go home and battle it through, meanwhile in China every test positive get 2/3 CT at least.

  17. @Daniel @rick James. Eastern people value life more reallly buying people alive is considered that, especially when it’s own government is responsible for this mess,get your facts straight, everyone is suffering because of china

  18. I’m working for a large tech company whose products you probably use every day, and was moved to Shanghai for supply chain management since manufacturing sites in China are the only way we can reliably make our products.

    The hotel situation here is awesome, suite upgrades every night at the Park Hyatt and we are doing domestic travel 3x+ per week identical to pre-covid times.

    Business is booming, and if Wuhan authoritarianism is what allowed for this, I am all for it ! If the US had followed China’s lead, we would have been back to normal April 2020 !

  19. @Issac jones
    No, it is the incompetence, ignorance, and arrogance of our previous administration that led to this disaster.

  20. China: 1) Draconic controls so 10 million people (0.7% of the population) may be ordered to lock down for two weeks without warning, and door-to-door testing is mandatory. Over one year, 100 million people were affected, 7% of the population. 2) Economy is fully open and booming, theaters, restaurants, and tourist attractions are full, billions travel during holidays.

    U.S: No draconic controls. 540K deaths so far. Since China has 4X US population, that is equivalent to 2.16 millions deaths in China, and 10X hospitalizations. China’s official deaths is 9K, lets assume this is way undercounting, and actual may be 100K.

    My friend’s international company let staff assigned to China to choose whether they want to stay in China or come back to U.S. The choice is between 0.7% chance of sudden lock down for two weeks, or in a place with an excess of 2 million deaths a year. Anyone can guess how most staff chose.

    Vaccination in China is done at a slower pace, people are not hurrying because the threat level is very different from many other parts of the world.

  21. I will cancel my Marriott Chase card. If the CEO wants to convey lies to the American people to curry favor with the totalitarian Chinese government I have no interest in ever again patronizing his business.

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