In this particular time of the year when we are all making plans for our well-deserved holidays, I’ve been reflecting upon how the Internet has transformed the travel and tourism industry and how online holiday booking has by far outnumbered more traditional booking methods. I noticed that despite globalization and the increasing number of non-English-speaking users, many tourism-related websites are badly translated or not translated at all.
Translation and, most importantly, “good” translation of websites is often underestimated by tourism-related businesses, despite the fact that it is often responsible for their successes or failures. In this article, I’ll explain why website translation is so important for the tourism industry and how to assess the quality of this type of translation.
Web content: a whole new genre
Gone are the days when websites were seen as the electronic version of traditional printed brochures. Today they are considered as a whole new macro-genre encompassing different sub-genres of web documents (e.g. blogs, company websites, discussion forums, etc.)
The reason for this is that website content defies the traditional “linearity” of the text. There is no beginning and end, but entry and exit pages, which depend solely on the reader’s choice and have to be coherent. Coherence can be created by links or call-to-action buttons acting as cohesive devices between pages and keeping web discourse together.
Tourism websites have to be dynamic, interactive, optimized and automatically adjustable to the readers’ preferences (e.g. multilingual websites presenting content in a preferred language). And, most importantly, they have to sell! Now, let’s see how a translation achieves all that.
Promotional language in tourist websites
More often than not, visitors arrive at a tourism website building their own virtual path through keywords or key phrases. Their dreams and wishes need to be nicely packaged and sold back to them. That is why it is common to find language techniques aimed at persuading and seducing potential travelers (abundant use of adjectives and emphatic language, the use of the imperative mood, call-to-action messages, etc.)
Due to the limited space often devoted to describing the different products offered, persuasive language needs to go hand in hand with lexical conciseness. Achieving conciseness may be easier for languages like English, due to the possibility of using premodification as a form of reducing relative clauses, but it may represent a challenge for languages like Spanish, which have to resort to adjectives, prepositional phrases, relative clauses or some other solution. See the following examples: hotel room → habitación de hotel; London transport → transporte londinense; reception lift area → área de ascensores que van a la recepción; self-catering accommodation → alojamiento sin servicio de comidas.
The fundamental importance of keywords
What I just explained is only the tip of the iceberg for anyone interested in translation of tourism promotional websites. But the fact is, and it is hard to disagree, that online visibility depends on factors other than translation per se. A web translation must provide optimized content in the form of keywords. If the keywords that potential customers would naturally produce and expect to find are not there, then, the website is not optimized and the translation would fail to fulfill its function.
Keywords are so important that some tourism-related texts are almost exclusively made up of them. The message is repetitive and includes phrases with identical meaning, but belonging to different registers, styles or varieties of a language (e.g. vacation house -Am.- vs. holiday home –Br.-). The point is to ensure that all the variants of a search phrase are present in the text so as to mirror consumers’ language and allow them to recognize themselves. To search for equivalent key terms, translators will need to use keyword popularity tools, like Google AdWords, to check if the translated terms will do the job they intend to.
The place keywords occupy within the text is important too. They are generally concentrated at the beginning of the page and they are fundamental in titles, active links, meta-descriptions and title bars. This is because website users tend to scan, rather than read, and quite often they don’t go farther than the first paragraph.
Is tourism website translation a type of specialized translation?
The fact that tourism-related expressions in English are shorter than the ones we may use in every-day language is what makes of tourism promotional English another type of specialized discourse requiring from the translator special skills at various levels. On the linguistic level, they have to deal both with the technicalities of the language of tourism and promotional texts. On the technical level, they must cope with the requirements imposed by the need to optimize web content to rank highly in search engine results.
Tourism website translators: “all-in-one” language services providers
Translation for the tourism industry is indeed a complex task requiring translators to develop skills which were not originally part of their professional profile. It is a type of specialized translation of which keyword analysis constitutes an important – maybe the most important – aspect.
Luckily for us, translators, several technological tools are available to facilitate the task of web content SEO. But, so far as tourism website translation is concerned, it is important for translators to understand where language matters and to bear in mind that web content is not just an online version of traditional printable promotional materials.
Were you familiar with all these aspects of tourism web translation? Do you have any tourism-related translation experience to share? Let us know by leaving a comment below!