Marriott’s China websites get shut down — and your website could as well if you’re not careful

If you visit Marriott’s China website today you’re likely to see this:

I dumped the text into Google Translate and here is what it loosely says:

So what exactly happened here?

According to Skift, Marriott sent a survey in Mandarin to its Chinese loyalty members that referred to Tibet, Macau and Taiwan as “countries.” As readers of this blog will know quite well by now, in the eyes of Chinese authorities, this is no trivial oversight.  It appears that this shutdown could last a week.

I can only imagine the lively conversations being held at the highest levels within Marriott right now.

This should be a wake up call to all organizations

I’m working on the 2018 edition of the Web Globalization Report Card and have compiled a list of a number of websites that are currently vulnerable to the wrath of China.

For the record, I don’t agree with China. And I know many execs at Western-based multinationals don’t as well. But it doesn’t matter what we think. If you want to do business in China you have to play by its rules.

In Marriott’s defense, its website did not list Taiwan as a country — but it appears that someone in marketing was not well versed on this very delicate geopolitical issue. This would be a good time for any company that does business not just in China but anywhere outside of its native country, to consider planning regular Globalization Summits. I’ve participated in a number of these over the years and find they go a long way in raising awareness to a range of geopolitical issues — as well as the sharing of best practices. Contact me if you’d like more information — I also now include copies of Think Outside the Country.

PS: If you haven’t purchased the 2017 Report Card, we’re now offering a special 2017/2018 bundle that will be available for short time. You can purchase both reports here.

And for those of you who already have the 2017 Report Card, we’re going to offer a discounted advance purchase option as well. Please contact me if you’d like to do this sooner than later.

And speaking of travel, we have a unique report out devoted to destination websites — there are a few that also run the risk of offending Chinese authorities.

Day One for Amazon in Australia

Today marks the official day one for Amazon in Australia.

While has been around for a number of years largely selling eBooks via the Kindle, today the company goes all-in, selling products across more than 20 categories, with Prime coming next year.

It’s interesting to be here and talking to the locals about what this all means.  Book publishers and retailers are acutely aware of Amazon, but what do consumers expect? One local newscast noted the initial consumer response has been underwhelming, with locals expecting far better deals than they were seeing.

But success in retail often requires a long game, and Amazon has proven that it is quite content to bleed money in the “short” run for profits later. I think Prime will be the key competitive differentiator for Amazon in Australia that it has been for Amazon in the US. No other retailers here offer anything similar (yet).

On a side note, I was amazed a few weeks ago to see how big Black Friday has become in Australia, demonstrating how local retail holidays can over time become global retail holidays. See the example below from New Zealand-based retailer Kathmandu.

The Internet’s obesity crisis

In 2001, I published a report on website weights and their impacts on website performance.

Why, may you ask, was I researching website weights all the way back in 2001?

The great broadband divide

At the time, in the United States and many other countries, homes and businesses were in the process of upgrading from dial-up internet connections to broadband connections. Because businesses were on the leading edge of this upgrade, many web teams designed fancy new websites that relied heavily on images and this fancy new technology known as Flash. But at the time just 5% of US homes had broadband connections, so they were forced to wait 30 seconds and beyond for many of these fancy new web pages to display.

For example, in 2001, the home page of Wal-Mart weighed 238 kilobytes, which, for a dial-up internet user, required up to a 30-second wait for the home page to display.

Around this time period, a startup was emerging that prioritized speed to such a degree that its home page subsisted of nothing more than a few words of text and a logo, weighing all of 13 kilobytes. It’s home page loaded in less than 3 seconds.

That startup was Google.

The Google home page weighed less than half of the Yahoo! home page, and users noticed. It wasn’t just the quality of search that won Google its customers, it was the responsiveness of the interface.

Flash forward to 2017.

Here is the weight of the Google home page in 2001 (blue) compared with today (in green). Google now comes in at a whopping 550 kilobytes (on average). But you don’t have to look far to find websites that weigh many times more than Google, such as IBM and Microsoft and Amazon.

The mobile broadband divide

So what does this mean in terms of website performance?

If you don’t have a high-speed connection, it means the difference between a fast-loading website and a website that you might just give up on.

Not everyone has a high-speed connection

So let’s say you have a smartphone on a 3G network — which represents vast portions of China and most emerging countries, such as Indonesia and Turkey. A web page that weights more than 3 MB could take anywhere from six to 10 seconds to load. If you want your website to display in under the coveted 3-second threshold, you would be wise to keep your website under 1MB.

Based on my research for the Web Globalization Report Card, mobile websites have been steadily increasing in weight. Just over the past two years they have nearly doubled in weight.

Mobile website weight is now one of the many elements that factor into a website’s total score.

If you want to better understand the speed of Internet connections around the world, check out the Speedtest global index.

The Speedtest Global Index compares internet speed data from around the world on a monthly basis. Data for the Index comes from the hundreds of millions of tests taken by real people using Speedtest every month. To be included in the Index, countries must have more than 3,333 unique user test results for fixed broadband and more than 670 unique user test results for mobile in the reported month. Results are updated at the beginning of each month for the previous month.

Here’s an excerpt from October:

So while Norway currently leads the pack with nearly 60Mbps, Brazil comes in at 15Mbps. And Brazil is far from alone at the bottom half of this list.

What’s the key takeaway here?

All the usability testing in the world is meaningless if your customers can’t quickly load your website or mobile web app. 

Get your mobile website under 1MB and you’ll be well positioned against the competition — and you’ll be better serving your customers. Get it under 500 kilobytes and you’ll be on par with Google’s home page; not a bad place to be.

China: 120 million international travelers and just getting started

In 2016, more than 120 million Chinese traveled internationally. which is roughly the entire population of Japan (or Canada, Italy and Australia combined).

And only 10% of the country has a passport.

Imagine the travel industry when 25% of Chinese residents are traveling abroad. Where will they go? What will they want to see? To help shed light on these questions, recently interviewed 3,000 Chinese residents who traveled internationally over the past year.

It published these findings in the 2017 edition of the Chinese International Travel Monitor report. If you want to better understand Chinese travelers, where they’re headed and why, this report is a must read.

Here are a few items that jumped out at me:

  • China is already the largest source of international travelers for many countries.
  • Yet only 10% of the Chinese population had passports in 2016.
  • Shopping is no longer the prime attraction for a growing number of travelers
  • Nor is group travel, which is quickly losing favor among older travelers. Translation: Chinese travelers are tiring of those buses.
  • Independent travel is very popular among millennials.
  • And eco/green tours are becoming quite popular, particularly among older travelers. I’m very happy to see this.
  • The most welcoming countries to Chinese travelers, based on survey respondents, are Thailand, Japan, Australia. The USA made the top 5, though I suspect that ranking might be slipping based on current events.
  • The top landmark in the US:  Grand Canyon.
  • The top landmark in Australia: Great Barrier Reef.
  • And in France: the Louvre.
  • Chinese visitors spend more in the US than visitors from any other nation, approximately $7,200.

So what does this mean for hotels and other travel segments? It means you have be curious, nimble, and you had better support Chinese — both on your website, in your call center, via social media, and with in-house Mandarin speakers.  Survey respondents ranked poor hotel localization as a top 5 problem.

Chinese is also not as well supported across many of the global travel websites I reviewed two months ago. As shown here, based on our new report Destination: Marketing, Chinese is found on only 64% of the leading tourism websites.

Also, accepting Visa or Mastercard is not good enough. Most Chinese travelers prefer to pay with UnionPay.

Click here to download the report.

And if you’d like to know which tourism and destination websites are the most world-ready, check out our new report Destination: Marketing.

Finally, if you want insights into localizing your website for China, check out Think Outside the Country.

When looking at Asia, look beyond China, Japan and South Korea…

Historically, when a Western company planned its Asian expansion strategy, it primarily focused on three markets (or fewer):  China, Japan and South Korea.

Today, any company with eyes on Asian expansion should not limit itself to these three markets. There are many opportunities in the emerging ASEAN countries.

ASEAN stands for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and it represents 10 member states that reflect a diverse range of fast-growing and multilingual markets. The member states are illustrated by country codes below. I’ve included full list of country names at the end of this post; see if you can guess them by country code alone…


Nielsen recently published a report, Rethinking ASEAN, noting:

…that ASEAN’s middleweight regions with population between 500,000 to five million are the region’s next big bet for growth, debunking the commonly held belief that mega-cities such as Jakarta, Manila and Bangkok are the region’s sole engine for growth.

I’m excerpting an interesting graphic they produced that illustrates a few key data points, namely that smaller markets (and regions within these markets) are experiencing faster rates of growth than we’re seeing in much larger markets. In other words, it’s not a bad idea to look beyond the largest markets (and cities) when planning your Asian expansion strategy.

From a web localization perspective, I’ve seen significant investments in a number of these countries over the past few years. According to the 2017 Web Globalization Report Card, here are three emerging Asian languages among the leading global brands. Thai is now seen on more than half of all leading global brand websites.

These is still plenty of room for growth. Languages such as Malaysian and Filipino are still not supported by most global companies. But it’s safe to say that this will change in the years ahead.

And now let’s see how you did on aligning country codes with country names…


ASEAN  members:

  • .BN: Brunei Darussalam
  • .KH: Cambodia
  • .ID: Indonesia
  • .LA: Laos
  • .MY: Malaysia
  • .MM: Myanmar
  • .PH: Philippines
  • .SG: Singapore
  • .TH: Thailand
  • .VN: Viet Nam