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International tourism – just English won’t do

written by Anja Peschel

Who hasn’t seen the wonderfully funny signs that are intended to inform foreign visitors, but in fact just end up confusing them.

On menus, the worst that can happen is that foreign tourists are forced to leave their comfort zone and try a new culinary delicacy (on the Canary Islands, we were once offered the unconventional combo of jam and eggs – an attempt to translate jamón y huevos). But elsewhere, such translations can cause significant damage.

Finding your way through the jungle of options

The internet makes it possible to compare global tourist offerings with a few clicks of the mouse – but only if they are available in the user’s language. I, for one, don’t have the patience to grapple with a Google translation or a website that is only available in Italian (unfortunately I can’t speak Italian) when I’m booking my holiday to Italy. Could this be one of the reasons why more and more Germans are holidaying in Germany? Reading the conditions of travel before booking a trip is always recommended. While this can be a torment in the native language, for many would-be globetrotters, it is all but impossible in a foreign language. When missing or poor translations lead to real difficulties in orientation or cause tourists to misunderstand the local customs or, even worse, essential safety regulations, they don’t just hurt the vendor’s image, they can also have legal and economic consequences.

Speak the language of your guests

If you want to welcome non-German-speaking guests to your hotel, holiday resort or educational tour, it’s best to speak their language. Approximately 30% of internet users speak English, which means that a website that is only translated into English (or not translated into their native language) is not enough to reach 70% of users.

Only around 8% of foreign tourists who holiday in Germany come from other German-speaking countries. Among non-German speaking visitors, approximately 10% come from the Netherlands, followed by around 5% each from the USA and the UK, nearly 4% from Italy and more than 3% from France.

According to the market research institute Common Sense Advisory, 72% of users are more likely to buy a product if information about the product is available in their own language. Moreover, 56% percent of users state that the availability of information in their native language plays a larger role in purchasing decisions than the price.

Working for Adventure

The arguments for providing a multilingual hotel website or holiday brochure can’t be dismissed, but how to go about the translation? The cheapest and quickest option is, of course, to make use of Google Translate. Bear in mind, however, that the machine has issues with advertising slogans. The English slogan, “Own your adventure when you book your next vacation to the Bahamas” becomes “Work your own adventure …” when translated into German. Hmm. Not working is kind of the point.

If you are looking to appeal to guests from beyond the English-speaking world, you should also keep in mind that, for example, when translating from German to Spanish, Google Translate first translates from German to English and then from English to Spanish. A game of Chinese whispers is loads of fun in one language, just imagine how much more amusing it will be when multiple languages are involved. But is this effective advertising?

The direct road to Rome

If you are interested in speaking to tourists from around the world, you should make sure that foreign language versions don’t become a joke. Translating marketing texts effectively requires an excellent feel for the language and sound knowledge of the culture of your potential guests. And anyone who is signing their name to the general conditions of travel should also be able to understand them. It may be true that all roads lead to Rome, but the most direct road passes through a professional translator.

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