Government officials in the Chinese tourist hotspot of Hainan have told popular hotel chain Vienna International to change the name of its branches because their reference to the European city reflects a “worship of foreign things”, sparking a stand-off with China’s largest hotel group.
The civil affairs bureau in the island province — sometimes referred to as China’s Hawaii because of its beaches — has issued a list of dozens of businesses with names that should be “rectified” because they suggested “worship of foreign things”.
Among them were establishments named Victoria Hotel, Heidelberg Hotel and 15 branches of the mid-range chain Vienna International Hotels. The Vienna brand’s hundreds of outlets in China are majority owned by Jinjiang Group, China’s largest hotel operator, which operates more than 10,000 hotels worldwide and owns a majority stake in US group Radisson Hospitality.
“The country is now culturally confident. China has thousands of years of culture. Is it appropriate to use these foreign names on Chinese territory? Isn’t this hurting the feelings of the nation?” a civil affairs official told a state-run Hainan newspaper.
State-owned Jinjiang responded in a social media post this week saying that it had lodged a formal objection with Hainan’s civil affairs bureau. The company said it had registered Vienna Hotels as a trademark until 2022 and had a right to use the name. It declined to comment further.
The Hainan government also ordered changes to business with “feudal” names such as “Coral Palace” and “Imperial Garden District”, ostensibly because they refer to China’s imperial past, as well as names they judged to be “incomprehensible” or “strange”.
The Hainan government official, who the state-run newspaper quoted but did not name, said the province’s effort were part of a national campaign.
The dispute comes as companies from the US and Canada have complained of punitive measures in China due to the trade war and diplomatic dispute over Chinese company Huawei, which have soured Beijing’s relations between the two countries.
In most cases the measures taken, such as extra customs checks, slower approvals and audits, reflect the efforts of zealous local officials rather than any formal orders from Beijing, according to businesspeople.
Chinese property and hotel projects are often named after foreign cities or regions. A 2017 survey of projects in 137 Chinese cities found that Paris, Venice, Versailles, California, Rome, Champs-Elysées and Victoria were among the most common names used.
Local governments have periodically clamped down on the practice over the years. In 2017 officials in a district of the city of Xi’an in central China criticised the names of several buildings for being too foreign. They included a residential complex named after France’s Seine river and California City Plaza, a shopping mall. It was not clear if their names were later changed.