machine translation in tourism marketing

Machine translation in tourism marketing: The difference between giving information and selling a service

Last week, I was fortunate enough to take advantage of the new direct flight connection between Newquay and Alicante. As I was waiting by the check-in desk, I spotted this German leaflet from Coastline Travel:

machine translation in tourism marketing

I was really excited and proud to see that a Cornish business has gone to the trouble of providing a German leaflet. However, to anyone who knows the German language, it’s immediately obvious that this is a machine translation. It is littered with grammatical errors, nonsensical words and typos. As a professional translator, my immediate reaction was to cringe at the poor quality of the translation, particularly because it would have cost very little to translate this small flyer professionally.

But then I asked myself: does the flyer do the trick? And in all honesty, yes it does. Despite the poor German, I could understand the gist of what was being offered and how to go about booking transport. With that in mind, wouldn’t it be perfectly fine to use machine translation like Google Translate to translate all marketing material for your tourism business into other languages? Well, it depends entirely on the context of where the translation appears and what it is you want to achieve.

The bare bones: providing information for your guests

Let’s take another look at the Coastline Travel leaflet: The aim of the flyer is to attract the attention of German tourists who have just landed at Newquay Airport. They are most likely looking for transport from the airport to their accommodation, so they are ready to buy. This is less of a hard sell and more about letting the new arrivals know what it is Coastline Travel offers. It’s about providing information. When we ourselves go on holiday to other countries, we don’t necessarily expect to go to a restaurant and expect a flawless menu in our own mother tongue. As long as we roughly know what it is that we’re about to eat, we’re happy, right? The same goes with informational signage around city centres or information about WiFi or laundry services at hotel receptions. As long as we get the gist, we are content. It doesn’t mean that machine translation is good practice (after all, any type of corporate communication should reflect your business, your brand, in the right light). But in these very specific contexts, where the customers are already there right in front of you – ready to buy – providing a translation (of sorts) can help to bridge the language gap.

Beyond giving information: selling your product or service

But is that, in reality, all you are trying to achieve? Bridging the language gap? Or are you in fact translating this information not just to provide information, but to sell a service/product? Going back to the restaurant menu for a moment, there is a big difference between ordering ‘pork with chips’ and ordering ‘tender medallions of succulent pork with hand-cut, Cajun seasoned chips’. You end up with the same food on your plate but one description conjures up mouth-watering images of beautiful food and contributes to a wonderful dining experience (think good reviews, good tips, repeat custom), while the other one, well, doesn’t.

Particularly when it comes to selling higher-value services like accommodation and spa packages to overseas visitors who book before they set foot on Cornish ground, it’s not enough to just tell them what you have to offer in the most rudimentary form. Using machine translation for your website, for example, is like saying ‘Me hotel, you guest. Here come, pay this much, I bed for you provide.’

When searching online, overseas visitors have a plethora of accommodation options to choose from. As a marketing manager, it is your job to make sure they understand your value proposition – you need them to WANT to stay at your hotel and convert those web visits into booked rooms. And that’s the difference right there. Machine translation brings across information (sometimes). Professional translation helps you to actually sell your product or service.

Did you know that people are six times less likely to purchase from websites that are not presented in their own mother tongue? If you would like to find out more about affordable translation options for your tourism business, please get in touch for a chat and a free quote. We provide a wide range of tourism translation services, including website translation, multi-lingual social media as well as print media like brochures and welcome packs. For some examples of our work, read on to find out how we’ve helped St Michael’s Mount, Newquay BID and Cornish Cycle Tours to connect with overseas visitors.

Not sure if you should be translating anything at all? To get you started, take a look at our bog Marketing translation: the cost of (not) translating your brand.

different-approaches-to-grammar

Grammatically speaking: Different approaches to grammar

When it comes to communicating with each other, grammar plays a role of the utmost importance; without grammar, we would be unable to construct intelligible sentences. However, as an active part of any language, grammar is bound to evolve with time, and not everyone experiences this change in the same way. Find out if you side with prescriptivists or descriptivists.

descriptivism-vs-prescriptivism

Whose side are you on?

Imagine you are queuing in a supermarket, and you notice a sign above the till that reads “10 items or less” (instead of “fewer”, which, as English grammar books will tell you, should be applied for quantifiable, or countable, objects).

Now, if reading that sign made you want to throw your groceries out of the window, chances are you have prescriptive views. Linguistic prescription (or prescriptivism) is the idea according to which a language should have one proper form, with an established set of rules that should not be transgressed, neither in writing nor in speaking. In the eyes of prescriptivists, breaking these rules equals being in the wrong. A few centuries ago, when writing started gaining importance as a means of communication, a standardised language had to be created, as a way for people in different parts of a country to understand each other. Unsurprisingly, the language used by people in power, or high in society, was the one chosen to fulfil this role. With time, it became recognised as the “proper” language: linguistic prescription was born.

If, on the other hand, the admittedly incorrect sign doesn’t bother you, you are most likely to be a descriptivist. Indeed, descriptive linguistics, as the name indicates, describes language phenomena rather than advocating them. Descriptivists recognise the fact that language belongs to its speakers, and that it is bound to change: they believe content is more important than form when it comes to sharing information. In other words, as long as the person you are speaking to can understand you, proper use of grammar is not of prime importance. To descriptivists, breaking the rules is simply evolution.

So in the end, who’s right?

Although it might seem that the two schools of thought contradict each other, they are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and we need both of them in order to study linguistics as well as to learn new languages. According to the web-based publication Ethnologue, there were as many as 942 million English speakers in the world in 2015, but only a little over one third were native speakers! The remaining 600 million are scattered across hundreds of countries, with their own culture, references, and accents, which inevitably get incorporated into the way English is spoken and written. Hundreds, if not thousands of different world Englishes exist, and descriptivism studies all of them as an observer.

However, in terms of language learning, prescription has the advantage of creating a standardised language, even if it does get renewed every so often – let’s consider the fact that the proper spelling of “bird” was “brid” in Old English. This standardisation not only makes communication a lot easier when travelling to other countries, it has also allowed English to become the “Lingua Franca” in most countries, meaning it is the language the most widely used between speakers from different countries.

Which school should translators choose?

As a marketing translator, the best choices come from observation. The grammar used by your client reflects their personality, their brand, and they want all of their customers to experience this brand in the same way, no matter which language they speak. However, what could be acceptable in one language is not necessarily acceptable in another. It is thus very important to adapt the tone and grammar in the target language. Read their content carefully and ask yourself, “Do they use abbreviations? Are they making up words to suit their products?” If so, you can feel free to be creative in your target language if it sounds acceptable. If not, always think about you own experience as a customer to think about what your target audience might expect from this brand.

Always remember, choosing words is like choosing an outfit. Do not translate a suit into shorts and flip-flops!