If there’s one industry which is a natural fit for translation, it’s travel, tourism and hospitality. Where else will you find so many potential clients speaking so many different languages?

In 2017, the worldwide tourism industry was worth in excess of £1000 billion. That’s a fair chunk of the entire GDP of the world. As well as a whole lot of zeroes to wrap your head around. But, more importantly, 2017 was a boom year for tourism. With a big boost to the number of people who decided to travel coming from parts of the world where English isn’t the primary language: Asia, Africa and South America amongst them.

In a world which is better connected than ever before, this is vital to remember. Because millions of people in those possibly distant corners of the globe shop for the places where they will go and where they will stay online.

So what does this mean for you if you’re in the tourism and hospitality industry?

Why is it important to translate tourism content?Once upon a time, travel agencies were local language affairs. They dealt with clients in their home market. Customers who lived nearby and spoke the same language.

Likewise in the hospitality sector in English-speaking parts of the world, visiting guests were most often addressed in English. No matter which part of the world they were actually from. It wasn’t quite the caricature of a hotel manager presented in the UK sitcom Fawlty Towers. But they do say all the best sitcoms have some basis in fact!

In today’s globally-connected world, this approach is potentially fatal for any travel company or accommodation provider. An increasingly switched-on global audience expects to be spoken to in the language which they feel most comfortable in. It’s become the standard. The question is no longer “do you offer your services in multiple languages?” It’s “why don’t you?”

But there are a lot of benefits to tourism business owners who invest in multilingual capability. Research on the topic shows that:

  • Visitors stay longer on a website which has been properly translated into their own language.
  • Customers are more likely to trust and buy from an online store which is in their own language.
  • Around 50% of people would pay more if the website they were buying from was in their native language.

Does Google Translate work for travel companies?You may have spent a long time perfecting the phrasing of your English-language advertising. You might even have paid to have a professional marketing agency do it on your behalf. Now you’re selling those same products and services in a different language. You need to apply the same level of persuasive, targeted craft.

Incorrect, out of place, poorly targeted translations. By letting an automatic translation tool like Google Translate do the work for you, you risk turning away a potential sale with your translated content. Content which will have no regard for the cultural reference points or background of your audience. Something which, knowingly or not, you relied upon to craft your native-language content. It’s something which, if ignored, can effectively erase all of the trust which the reputation of your brand has brought you.

Outside of creating marketing materials which fail to convert, you also risk:

  • Doing serious damage to your brand
  • At best amusing and at worst seriously confusing your guests
  • Failing to rank on SERP (Search Engine Results Pages) in other languages, as search engines will mark and rate automatically generated content poorly

Does Machine Translation work for the tourist industry?Machine Translation (MT) can be an effective choice to translate some of your content. This isn’t Google Translate we’re talking about here. There are MT engines which have been trained for very specific types of content and which are usually supervised and/or post-edited by professional human translators.

User Generated Content (UGC) – most importantly, reviews you’ve received – is some of the most influential and trusted content you can get. Surveys show time and again that it’s reviews which really persuade people to take action online. Which makes it important to share the good news about your services.

But, UGC has two problems when it comes to translation. Namely:

  1. It usually appears in large quantities
  2. It has a short shelf life (because people want to see the most recent reviews)

This can make it a challenge to remain current and accurate when having your reviews translated. Crowd-sourcing your translation is one solution. Setting up your own platform is very difficult, however. Meaning you’ll need to use one that’s already out there. There are also quality concerns – as you might guess when you see the often bargain basement price tag of this kind of approach.

The alternative is MT through a properly customised engine which is:

  1. Correctly trained on the kind of content you are going to want it to translate (with a vocabulary suited to the tourism and hospitality sector).
  2. Customised to handle common slang, typos and other grammatical issues common to UGC (you want to try and let the character of the original post shine through as much as possible).
  3. Ideally, checked by some degree of professional post-editing (to check the output).

What’s involved in hospitality and tourism translation?Remember that your new audience:

  1. May have different cultural associations with images, signs and icons.
  2. Will need to have any culture-specific references you’ve made localised so that they receive the same message.
  3. May have strong cultural associations with the colours you use in your advertising – particularly if you are advertising in markets such as China.
  4. Might speak a language which will take up more or less space on your website or brochure, requiring design changes.
  5. May speak a left-to-right language or be used to a GUI (Graphical User Interface) which works in a different way to the one used by visitors from your own culture.
  6. Might have different expectations as to the “correct” time and date format, currency format, addresses, units of measurement and so on.

Changes like this require proper localisation of your message. A translator who has merely mastered both languages isn’t good enough. They need to be a native speaker of the language you want to translate into. So that they really know how a person from that specific cultural group will receive what you have to say.

To really make your message hit home, you might need transcreation services. These are a step beyond localisation. They involve your copy being completely re-written if necessary in order to ensure that your message is properly adapted.How do you make translation cost-effective?In an ideal world, you’d stop reading this article right now and start localising every aspect of your tourism or hospitality business. Unfortunately, many companies in the travel industry operate with a limited budget. No matter how many times they read the words “2017 was a boom for tourism” on a page!

If that sounds like you, deciding where to focus your efforts is going to be the most cost-effective way to proceed. Not everyone can afford to have multilingual members of staff permanently on hand.

You’ll generally find that to get the biggest bang for your buck, you should localise – in order – your:

1) Website

Be careful to choose the languages you want to localise into carefully. Remembering as well, of course, that – for instance – the Spanish spoken in Spain is different to that spoken in Mexico, Puerto Rico or Argentina.

2) Social media

Social media has proven time and again to be one of the most effective marketing channels for travel and tourism companies. Another plus point in its favour is that it is highly cost-effective. Tips and tricks like giveaways and prize competitions can boost its power still further.

Adding other languages to your social media profiles dramatically improves your reach. It also increases your number of overall social interactions – shares, likes, retweets and so on – as well as your chance of garnering that highly desirable UGC. All things which will increase the strength of your online presence.

3) Reviews, testimonials and other UGC

If you’re not considering these part of your website, they should definitely be high up on your list of elements to translate. The sheer persuasive power of positive reviews means you should be spreading the good things people are saying about you as far and wide as possible.

4) Marketing literature

Translating your marketing literature, your leaflets, brochures and business cards into different languages is vital when you’re targeting a new market.

5) Your blog

A travel and tourism blog is more likely to be shared than most. Translating yours into other languages is a great way of showing what you have to offer to an even wider audience.

6) Physical items

This includes signs, contracts, menus, itineraries, safety instructions, maps… Any items which you use to communicate with your guests or clients. Remember that even well-known symbols or icons are not necessarily universal. Some may even be offensive in other languages or cultures, necessitating some smart localisation.

Because whatever part of the tourist trade you’re in, your hotel, casino, travel agency, restaurant, theme park or business as a local guide will only become more profitable with a larger audience who are predisposed to trust you. After all, you talk their language.

Do you need some tips on travel and tourism translation? Or have you mastered offering your hospitality services to the international market?

Get involved in the conversation below.