Act Global and Think Local: How Not to Get Lost in Translation.
By Pamela Whitby
Friday, 17th August 2012
In an increasingly global world where social and search are merging and reviews really do matter, what should travel firms be thinking about? Kathleen Bostick, VP of the Travel and Hospitality Practice at the global translations firm, Lionbridge, shares her insights.

Few in our industry will ever forget the travel chaos that erupted in 2011 as a result of the Icelandic volcano.  Flights were cancelled, holidays wrecked and school starts delayed as families were left stranded in far away places. The natural disaster tested customer service strategies to the absolute limit and some came off better than others.

Dutch carrier KLM was one that handled the situation effectively – and it did so using social media. In fact, the volcanic ash cloud prompted a social media strategy that has arguably become recognised as one of the best in the industry.

Recognising that it simply could not update its website fast enough to report on the emerging crisis, KLM turned to Twitter to inform customers in their local language, and it did this in 26 countries.

Just a few weeks ago, KLM took that strategy a step further. They said Facebook and Twitter would now be the first place customers should turn to for customer service. So far it is doing this around the clock in five languages: English, Dutch, German, Spanish and Japanese.

"KLM are rock stars when it comes to social media," says Kathleen Bostick, VP Travel and Hospitality Practice at translations firm, Lionbridge. "Getting to this point has obviously been a process. The bottom line is that they have recognised two important things. First, social media when used properly can be an excellent customer service tool. Second, responding in a person's native language really can make all the difference." 

Going global

In an increasingly online and accessible world, travel firms should be thinking not only about the social but the global aspect of social media. Says Bostick, "The day you set up a Facebook page, you're global whether you like it or not."

Bostick recently holidayed in Italy where she says she had the "hardest time figuring out where to stay and eat". Many of the posts - for everything from accommodation to restaurant reviews - were in Italian only. When searching for travel options, people do read reviews. In fact, many travellers won't book a hotel unless they have read a review, and will often change their mind based on a review. Because travel is such a personal experience, they are also more likely to book a site that has been translated into a local language because they know what they are buying.

"Now we know that everybody reads reviews and nobody is going to be able to translate all of these," stresses Bostick. "But with social and search merging and becoming so important, you have to have content in the language people are searching in if you want to be found."

So what do travel firms need to do? Here are some top tips:

1. Translate your website. English is the world's lingua franca so having an English version of your website is a no-brainer and many are doing this pretty well. However, if your target audience is Chinese, then by the same token, you need a Chinese version of your website. You don't have to translate the entire site, but start with your most popular pages and check the results. You can then determine if it makes sense to translate the entire site.

2. Style matters. Make sure all versions of your website are perfectly aligned to reflect your brand. It should be done by a professional translation partner.  You should take the same care in creating your website in additional languages as you do in creating your English content.

3. Optimise your website. So you've published the perfect translation but you still aren't seeing additional bookings. "You need to treat your translated site exactly the same as you would treat the flagship website and this means  international SEO optimisation," advises Bostick.

4.  Keywords are king.  English keyword may vary from country to country. For example in Spanish, depending on the country, ‘scooter' can be translated into escúter, motoneta or motocicleta, but the term most often searched for is vespa.  You need to ensure your key words are not simply translated, but that in-country research is conducted to find the most suitable term.

5. Don't forget Mobile.  Mobile-optimised websites and travel apps should be a key part of your strategy, not only in English but all your languages. Translating your app or mobile site can be done very quickly and economically, since there is very little content to translate. Hotels.com is the leader here supporting 37 languages across all platforms.

6. Facebook may not be king. Know which platforms your customers are actively using. Don't just assume you need to be on Facebook and Twitter in every country. They are both banned in China, but Kaixin is very popular and is where Holiday Inn has built its Chinese presence.

7. Get some reviews translated. Okay, so you can't possibly translate all your reviews, but translating some strategic properties with the languages of your target market could be very useful. Here's where a professional translation – as you would use for a website - isn't really necessary. "There are more cost effective ways to get your review into another language. The review doesn't need to be perfect really, it just needs to sound authentic in the local language," says Bostick. "We are translating reviews for our customers using a crowd-sourced solution which is a fraction of the cost of using professional translators."

8. Monitor, monitor, monitor. Set up a monitoring system so that you know what people are saying about you in other languages. Software like Radian6 or TrustYou can monitor online conversations in several languages.

9. Respond...with a human voice, please. Never (ever) respond on social media with a machine translation. It could be inaccurate and it could even be offensive and end up damaging your brand. 

To outsource or not to outsource

Having a global social media strategy is really important. So how do you do it if you have, for example, plenty of resources in Spain and Italy but nothing in Russia or Japan, which are your fastest growing destinations? Outsourcing can be a part of your  social media strategy. While a few years ago this may have been seen as completely taboo, given the global nature of travel this is changing.

Bostick sites a faux pas by a major car manufacturer when somebody in Europe posted a question in Dutch on Facebook, asking where he could find the closest dealership. A while later came the response. "Sorry we don't speak Dutch." Not only did that company lose the sale, but this lost customer told all his friends about it. 

Many companies are still so overwhelmed with their English social media strategy that the global piece isn't even on their radar. They know they have to do something, but may be delaying due to lack of resources. This is where a translation partner can help. They can do everything from managing and monitoring in-country platforms, communities and forums, to routing and responding, creating original in-language content, translating blogs, campaigns and reviews or simply supplementing in-house resources.

Remember, websites and social media are already global whether you want them to be or not, so make sure you have a plan in place to reach and embrace your global audience.

Kathleen Bostick, Vice President of the Travel and Hospitality Practice at the global translations firm, Lionbridge will speaking at EyeforTravel's Travel Distribution Summit, North America in Las Vegas from September 13-14 alongside 90 other industry leading experts. See the full mobile agenda and speaker line up here:

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