The key role of translation in hospitality

Translation and a smart language strategy can help you improve revenue and guest experience, the two main concerns of every hotelier.

Both as a guest and as a hotelier, I have often encountered poorly translated collateral in hotels, or not translated at all – not to speak of online contents.

But first let’s look at some data.

75% of consumers prefer to buy products and services in their native language, while 60% rarely or never buy from English-only websites (Can’t read, won’t buy, 2014 survey by Common Sense Advisory).

And 90% of internet users in the EU claim that, when given a choice of languages, they always choose to visit a website in their own language.

According to Deloitte 2018 Travel and Hospitality Industry Outlook, “travel is outpacing demand for goods. Historical personal consumption expenditure data reveals spending on durable goods has been dropping for a little over a decade. Even clothing and apparel spend is dipping. Instead, experiential spending on recreation, travel, and eating out is trending up.”

So now it’s the perfect time to capitalize on this trend by ensuring your contents engage your customers in your key markets and spur them on to convert interest into bookings – preferably direct ones.

Data-centric personalization.

The Deloitte report also points out a truth which has become more and more apparent: the future, in travel and hospitality too, is data-centric personalization.

When evaluating your translation needs versus your budget, remember that it is not a matter of all or nothing: exploit your data to help you identify which contents would be the most worthwhile to translate in view of your target audience or goals.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts, a company I know well first hand having worked in the EAME HQ for over ten years, and which is now part of Marriott, put this approach into practice in 2015, revolutionizing their take on website content translation.

They started by analysing their sales and website traffic data. For instance, Japanese translations for their San Francisco properties were generating revenues that were 42 times their cost, while the ROI of Japanese translations for the Dallas properties was really poor. Or again, while New York City is a very popular destination for Italians, Starwood provided few Italian translations of their properties there.

Based on such insights, the company revisited their strategy of translating all of their properties into a fixed set of four languages — French, German, Japanese, and Spanish — irrespective of how they performed, reinvesting the savings in languages that showed promise at local level.

The result? Starwood invested USD 600,000 in translation and gained about USD 45 million from additional guests.

But what to translate then?

I suggest analysing your needs vs. local requirements, market segments, marketing strategy and allocated budget, choosing to translate and/or edit a mix of contents and collateral from the below.

1) In-house client-facing collateral, such as in-room literature, sales & marketing, signage.

TIP – Carefully translate and edit your F&B menus. These are among the pieces your guests come most frequently in contact with: badly written and translated menus reflect poorly on your reputation, besides representing a danger to health and safety.

2) Online contents: website, social media, company/hotel blog… Translating your online presence into the local language of your prospects will promote your visibility, increasing the chances of being found, as most people search the web in their mother tongue. Translated contents help build trust, showing your customers that you care about them, and helping them on to closing the deal.

TIP – Also, consider putting together and/or translating destination guides, local F&B guides and all such contents that can help guests enjoy your hotel as part of your destination and local culture.

3) Staff-facing content: training materials, health & safety standards, brand guidelines, policies and procedures. On the one hand, to drive adoption, your personnel needs to clearly understand your brand and legal requirements. On the other, you also need to adapt brand and company standards to the local culture and habits, as well as applicable laws.

TIP – Translate all training materials in the local language, to drive a better adoption of the brand core values and hotel standards. This is important not only to provide guests with a better and consistent experience, but also to drive compliance with applicable laws and health & safety standards. Your hotel brand and personality comes alive through the interaction with your staff, with the people living and embodying its values and standards.

4) Company documents: contracts, internal presentations, real-estate evaluations, business correspondence, HR documents.

TIP – Today things change fast, and that is very true for hospitality as well, what with seasonality, refurbishment works, promotions etc. So it is critical to constantly update your contents and to do that consistently across all the guest touch points and all your communication channels, off- and online. Choose a trusted translation expert to cooperate with on an ongoing basis, who can learn everything about your business, update your contents and keep them consistent quickly and confidently, a resource you can constantly count on that will become a point of reference for all your international communication needs.

Bigger hotel companies should also think of having a style guide, in order to speak in a coherent voice, avoiding mistakes in their materials, and ensuring customers get a consistent. A style guide can also help you streamline the development of documents, producing original contents easier to localize. Consistency generates trustworthiness and confidence in your business.

Make the smart choice.

So, why should you translate your hotel related contents? It’s as simple as that: because today you must speak the language of your customers.

And why choose a qualified translation expert? Because if you don’t up your game with quality contents, customers will go somewhere else.

If the future is data-centric personalization, what could be more personalized than approaching your guests in their language, with a consistent, smart, recognizable communication and brand strategy that sets you apart from your competition and enhances your guest experience?

Improving the guest experience with the new digital technologies is a must-have. The new guest experience should be a mix of digital and physical interactions perfectly streamlined to offer guests customized experiences and services, based on their needs and preferences. It can be as simple as welcoming the customer in the guestroom with a personalized letter (printed or displayed on the TV or a digital device), or sending them a list of events based on their preference happening during their stay before their arrival, all in their native language and in your brand voice.

TIP – If possible, choose a translation and communications expert who has first-hand experience of hospitality, who knows the lingo, and the different ways to communicate with staff, management, guests, business partners and investors.

In the end, personalization means establishing a one-to-one relationship with your customers, whether you’re a multi-million international hotel company or an independent boutique hotel. Language and communication are the basis of any human relationship, and also of a successful business.

Language and communication are also powerful tools to stand out from the crowd and establish a meaningful connection with your customers. How can you think of appealing to your customers if you don’t speak their language or know their culture, if you aren’t aware of the correct local use of register, idioms, humour and tone of voice or if you don’t perceive issues in context?

The absence of a consistent communication strategy, a language barrier or badly translated contents reflect poorly on your hotel reputation, leading your customers to think engaging with them is not your priority.

Language is the soul of a brand. Quality translation and editing, combined with a smart data-driven communication strategy, will repay itself many times over. Make the smart choice to get the maximum return on your investment, in terms of brand engagement, awareness and reputation, and to maximize your competitive edge.

Industries are reshaping into interconnected ecosystems built around experiences. Similarly, hotels are not islands: they are deeply connected to the local community and they are ambassadors of the local culture. They must be able to convey a true sense of authenticity. Language, translation and communication are key assets to achieving these goals.

About the author
I am an Italian specialist in marketing, creative and legal translation and editing. I put my many years of experience to the advantage of my clients by creating texts resonating with the Italian-speaking audience and making brands locally relevant. Connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter or visit my website.