Marriott Fails their Geography Test

Did you see the news stories about Marriott and China? The hotel company sent an email questionnaire to its rewards club members listing Macau, Taiwan, Tibet and Hong Kong as countries in the Mandarin-language text. Big Mistake! China zealously guards against such blatant disrespect of its sovereign rights regarding these four and immediately demanded Marriott shut down its Chinese website and mobile app for a week; the company complied. In essence, this global company failed a world geography test.

A Complicated World

Was it cultural insensitivity? Geographical ignorance? Subversive disrespect? Or was it something else? CEO Arne Sorenson’s statement promised an immediate investigation, including possible termination for those at fault, a change in review procedures and enhanced training. It’s now an internal matter for Marriott, and chances are the rest of us will never know the details. But action-reaction is an excellent reminder that the internationalism of the digital world must acknowledge the nationalism of the real world. And national borders matter. A lot.

Power of Language

The power of language is a well-worn trope. But as the Marriott-China incident proves once again, communicating in another language is not just about syntax and translation. Nuances and perception matter as much if not more. Studies show nearly 75% of consumers prefer to buy products in their own language.

EVG gets it. We know the difference between simply translating content and crafting multilingual content. Little things trip you up. Need to ask your audience to choose a country-centric destination, to identify their location or their language from a drop-down menu? If you do, you’ve fallen into the same the trap Marriott, Delta Airlines and Emirates Airlines fell into. It’s the result of assuming the rest of the world operates the same way yours does.

One Size Does Not Fit All

China retains an impressive firewall in terms of the digital world, and companies making an investment in wooing Chinese citizens must adapt. The potential rewards are immense when you consider Chinese visitors spent $109 billion overseas in 2016. And that number is expected to continue to rise as the middle class extends their international travel. But it’s not just about overseas travel. Internal travel matters too.

Between January 13 and February 20, the Ministry of Transport estimates nearly 3 billion trips will be made for the 2018 Lunar New Year holiday. For a market that prefers online booking via an app, the loss in revenue can be significant when that app is down. International hospitality really is all about meeting the customer when and where they prefer to conduct business.

EVG specializes in speaking your language, no matter where you’re from or which language you speak. It’s why we rely on native-born speakers to write and edit content to ensure we’re speaking to your audience. If you’d like to learn more about our multilingual capabilities, we hope you’ll reach out to us.

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