Why effective translation matters for the tourism industry
Whenever someone is visiting a foreign country, they would forgive the locals for not understanding what they say, and perhaps for getting it wrong when translating their own language into that of their visitors. However, in the travel and tourism, industry, getting it wrong has become something of a sore spot.
Bringing visitors to any nation is an industry that relies on both advocacy and repeat custom. And these are factors that rely heavily on the visitor themselves having a memorable and magical time on their holiday. Travel and tourism companies and officials want people to remember their stay for all the right reasons and come back in the future, as well as telling other people about their visit.
This is where translation in tourism has become so important, as recently highlighted by the Chinese government. We've all seen the badly translated signs that exist in China where locals' translations into English have been somewhat hit and miss. But while there is a funny side to these, the Chinese government is concerned that they are making people highlight and remember their holiday for all the wrong reasons, which could give them, and others, a false perspective, and put them off visiting in the future.
Many of the translation errors that we see in China, according to one expert, Laura Zhao, come about as a result of people being too lazy to get it right. She said people in China rarely, if ever, use English, so when translating, they just use online translators and repeat the output verbatim.
As a result, the Chinese government has unveiled a new ten-part guide about translating Chinese into English, which focuses on making sure signage and other things tourists will see are properly translated, making them both understandable and less comical.
CBS reports that the government will now offer up hundreds of official direct translations of some of the most common Chinese-English signs to avoid people translating "under construction" to "execution in progress", and other equally worrying phrases. It said that under the changes, phrases such as "sunbathing", "ski resort" and "closing time" will all have official translations that Chinese companies will be asked to use.
What this shows is the concerns the Chinese government has over the impression bad translations give of the nation. While it may be seen as a point of comedy on the internet, years worth of bad machine translations can only be negative for China as a tourist destination. Bad translations take the shine away from the majesty and history that the nation has to offer, when really words should be used to promote, highlight and dazzle visitors.
For companies that are serious in their efforts to attract, retain and please tourists, it's vitally important that translation is carried out correctly. Get it right, and you have a consumer mesmerised by your fantastic products and services who might well give you business. But get it wrong, and no matter how good your business might be, chances are people are not going to stop for much more than a photo opportunity.
This is why expert translators are needed when it comes to even simple things like translating tour materials, travel guides and other things that people will typically use when they're on holiday. And it takes more than just someone who has a working knowledge of both the target and original language. You want to be working with a translator who is fluent in both, so they can retain the magical, mesmerising tones used to sell holidays and activities, even after translation.
Aspirational language is one of the most vital parts of making anyone's holiday come to life. It's the reason people will go on holiday, and the reason they'll remember it and want to come back. For this reason, you need a translator who is able to not only translate the language, but also take as much original meaning across the hurdle, retaining style and tone where possible.
Another reason it's important to work with expert translators as a travel or tourism firm is that there are a whole range of languages you might need to adapt your materials for if you are going to be effective.
China, for example, still welcomes far in excess of 25 million tourists from overseas every year, and it's a widely diverse group of people who come to holiday in the nation. As a popular destination for travellers, China is visited by people from the UK, Australia, United States, Russia, Mongolia and Malaysia in huge numbers every single year.
Such a diverse group of visitors needs a diverse translation strategy. It's all too easy to try to employ one-size fits all strategy, but when you have people from all over the world coming to visit, and you are looking to expand visitor numbers, it's vital that everyone is a potential advocate.
This means employing a multi-language translation strategy that takes real expertise, bringing tourists what they want in a range of languages. By working with a team of experts, tourism boards can offer their materials to as wide a group of visitors as possible, greatly increasing the chance they will all have a fantastic time and want to come back.
In a world where tourism now relies so heavily on the internet for word of mouth marketing as well as booking, it's more important than it's ever been for companies and other organisations to get their translation right. As China has highlighted, the comedic value in adopting cheap translation is no match for a strategy that employs experts and hits the mark.