Marriott is the largest hotel chain in the world. As with many companies that have gotten this large, the rise hasn’t come without its fair share of controversies. When it comes to Marriott, though, there’s not just one dark spot in the company’s past that’s worth a mention.
In fact, the corporation is currently facing or has faced allegations of money laundering, theft of funds, breach of trust, and corruption, amongst other crimes that have led to numerous lawsuits and criminal investigations.
Perhaps, the most outspoken critic of the brand is former British school teacher John Shepherd. In 2017, he published an open letter to then Marriott International CEO, Arne Sorenson, criticizing the brand for their “corruption of the rule of law” during the building of the St Regis Bangkok hotel back in 2008.
In that instance, the main issue was a car park that was wrongfully built near a residential area.
Shepherd considered himself directly affected by the violations of the local code that the brand perpetrated while building the structure. Due to the lack of success in court, Shepherd resorted to a hunger strike from his home in London that lasted 40 days. This bizarre turn of events is by no means the only legal issue that the Marriott brand has found itself in.
Marriott’s Most Recent Legal Issue
The most recent Marriott criminal investigation is currently being run by Polish authorities that are looking into a dispute between the brand and the LIM Center. The LIM Center is the owner of the building where the Warsaw Marriott Hotel is based, and it brought forth multiple complaints against the hotel chain.
There are two main accusations made by the LIM Center. The first one is a financial embezzlement situation, in which LIM claims the hotel used money belonging to LIM to pay different Marriott subsidiaries for a variety of services.
There’s also an ongoing dispute over Marriott’s refusal to accept an advertising contract that LIM had secured during the COVID pandemic. The idea was to put a large advertising space on the Marriott hotel building to minimize the financial losses during the pandemic.
These accusations are so severe that under Polish law if found guilty, Marriott executives could face up to 10 years in prison. While the case has reached the local DA’s office, it’s currently being held up in the courts and will likely end in some type of settlement.
The Shady Pricing Issue That Affected Guests
While some of the previous stories affected individual companies or members of a specific community, this next issue caused problems for virtually any traveler who ended up booking a room at a Marriott hotel.
To date, Marriott has faced at least two lawsuits over the practice known as “drip pricing.” This is when the resort offers a particular base price on its website or a travel site to lure potential guests in.
In the final bill, though, guests are charged things like resort fees and destination add-ons that completely alter the price per night that led them to book a room at the Marriott in the first place.
The first lawsuit for drip pricing that led to a Marriott criminal investigation was filed in California in 2019. Marriott got served with another lawsuit from yet another California resident in 2021.
In the 2021 case, the accuser alleged that these resort fees had been known to add up to 95 dollars to the total value of the night at a Marriott hotel.
Marriott has seemingly continued these practices and has even refused to pay the fines that have been imposed over this issue. As recently as April 2023, the company received a court order in the state of Pennsylvania that required them to pay 225,000 dollars to the state after being found guilty of drip pricing in 2021.
Attorney General Michelle Henry of the state of Pennsylvania said the company had now agreed to pay the fine by the deadline, which was set for May 2023. With these lawsuits becoming a recurring theme, though, it’s safe to say that Marriott has found it hard to stay away from committing drip pricing.
In fact, the office of Attorney General Michelle Henry warns consumers in a statement about Marriott that reads as follows:
“Marriott often practices “drip pricing” where resort fees, destination fees, facility and amenities fees, and other similar fees are not listed in the total price of the hotel room until a consumer is in the final steps of the purchasing process, or upon check-in.”
The Security Breach That Exposed Guests’ Personal Information
Another one of the instances that led to a major Marriott criminal investigation happened in Canada and the UK from 2018 to 2020. The first domino to fall in this case came in the form of a lawsuit against Marriott International Inc. and Starwood Canada ULC after guests discovered that the personal information that they provided to the hotel had been breached.
It’s estimated that data from up to 500 million guests that stayed at Marriott hotels over four years was compromised. The data that wound up in the hands of hackers includes credit card information, personal data through passports, and contact information that had been collected by the hotels.
Marriott did end up paying quite dearly for that data breach. The company was fined north of 99 million British Pounds in 2019 because of this issue. That, however, was not the end of the personal data issues for the company.
In 2020, it was found that the personal information of UK guests at Marriott hotels also found its way into the hands of hackers. Ultimately this led to an extra 18.4 million pounds being added to the original 99 million dollar pound fine.
More Marriott Criminal Investigations Have Taken Place Across the World
The Marriott brand is present virtually all over the world. Unfortunately for the brand and the people affected by it, this worldwide presence has translated to Marriott’s name being involved in many different legal issues. These situations have affected both guests and Marriott business partners, as is evidenced by this short list of cases that involve the popular hotel chain.