Language matters

INTERNATIONAL REPORT—With so many international travelers, the hospitality industry must make every effort to attract these potential guests to their properties—and once they are there, make them feel comfortable. Whether communicating with guests online, over the phone or via other telecommunications like TV and radio broadcasts, providing guests and potential guests information in their native language can be a deciding factor in a decision to stay at a property or to come back for a second stay.

International guests searching for lodging will be more attracted to a property that offers information online in their native language.

Providing information in another language isn’t enough— grammar, phrasing and spelling matter.

“Almost without exception, every hotel in the world, even in the middle of the U.S., [is]trying to attract more guests to its property,” said Martin Spethman, managing partner, Globalization Partners International (GPI), which has been in the translation services business for 20 years. “Certainly, for the known, large international brands that have properties all over the world, the need for translation across several content types is fairly obvious, but even in smaller brands and hotels that are U.S.-centric or one country-centric, they still are drawing guests from neighboring countries.”

Spethman noted that these potential guests often speak other languages, so hotels should communicate with them in a way that’s natural to them.

When a potential guest is researching for places to stay during their international travels, a hotel website in their native language can be a deciding factor in their choice. “First and foremost, attracting new and potential guests as they search the internet for where they want to stay in a particular city, whether it is Beijing or Nairobi [Kenya] or London, is helpful,” said Spethman. “Of course, they want to see the amenities and what type of restaurants are there. A lot of hotels are providing content specific to the surrounding area.

Whether in person or via telecommunications, hotel messaging should be clear to native speakers.

In addition to needing translations for guests, hotels are also using companies to better communicate with and train their growing number of international employees. “They are going to train their staff, which in most of these global hotels, are from all over the world,” he said. “They are going to need training videos and HR manuals in different languages. We do a lot of e-learning as well. We do a lot of training materials in every language from Swahili to Portuguese, Chinese, Arabic, Russian, you name it.”

Spethman said that his company often translates scripts for employee training videos. “Video content is obviously becoming more mainstream,” he said. “It is very common behind the front desk, so hotel employees and staff that need to be trained on certain things are going to be getting professional videos on any aspect of hospitality service. We typically are starting with training content that has been offered, traded or produced already, but the hotel needs it in several different languages to accommodate their staff.”

The company works on promotional videos as well. “That promotional video might have been created by an external agency to promote a property and then they now want to have that video in several other languages,” he said. “They don’t necessarily redo a complete video. They are going to use the same photography, the same images, the same script, but now they are going to ask us to subtitle it. The English is still there, but they will be able to have other guests who speak other languages read the subtitles. There are videos that do get lip-synched, but that takes a little bit more production localization time in terms of what we do.”

Authenticity matters
Anyone who has seen pictures of ridiculous-looking English signs from around the globe can attest to the fact that running text through an internet translator or computer program does not provide an accurate representation of the proper grammar or phrasing in a language.

“I would say 99% of our contracts with our clientele mandate that you cannot use machine translation, and we don’t,” said Spethman. “We use human translation and editing teams. We are very aware of the translation technology. It works for some types of clients. You have to build glossaries up front. You have to have the right translation team use the software and you have to post-edit it, but it is just still not there. The types of clients we work with in the hotel and hospitality space don’t want anything to do with it.”

Using an employee who speaks the language you want something translated into isn’t always a good solution for hotels either. “All review can help, but sometimes you really see hotels get steered down the wrong path by having a reviewer that just speaks the languages, but isn’t qualified to review,” said Spethman.

Spethman said that GPI uses translators who are native speakers of the languages translated. “In general, translators typically work as freelancers,” he said. “They should be, by best practices, a native speaker residing in their country. For instance, with Swahili, you might be recruiting in Tanzania or Kenya.

Translators at GPI are recruited using three-part testing. “They are tested with basic linguistic tests,” he said. “They are also getting tested on a few tools that we use for their tool aptitude, and then subject matter tests. You can’t have translators in every subject matter, but you certainly specialize or try to recruit around certain areas. Using the hotel example, there is a mixture of translation team specialists that we use. Some might be culinary, who would be used for menus; some might be marketing, which would be for web content or a brochure; some might be legal, for human resources or employment, some of the training materials or legal content.”

GPI always uses at least two translators for each project. “Every translation, even if is a small business card or a 50,000-word manual—there are going to be at least two translators on it,” said Spethman. “Typically, the teams are much bigger than that, but we are going to have people do the first draft or the base translation, then a second team review it or do quality assurance. It just depends on the amount of content. Even a business card will have someone do the base translation, a second person review it and then a project manager makes sure all of the quality assurance procedures are completed. We have some online-based checklists that we use. We do have the ISO 17100 translation services certification, which is the ISO certification specific for providing translation services.” HB

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