Translation for tourism is an art. A word-for-word translation of an American winter resort brochure could leave potential travelers from far different types of countries disinterested. For instance, American concepts of the beauty of frozen landscapes, exhilarating winter sports, and cozy indoor activities like drinking cocoa around a fire might require artful explanations and imagery in order to sound appealing to visitors from a tropical land.
In some industries and situations, “translation” is the straightforward process of accurately translating every word and phrase into its foreign language counterpart. This is certainly what you get from Machine Translation, whether via phone app or sophisticated translation software. But straight translation is not what a professional language service provider like Skrivanek delivers when you request translation of your materials for tourists. The process that better describes what we do for tourism texts is “transcreation,” which is more complex and always done by human specialists.
Tourism translation, or transcreation, is a creative process that can produce texts quite different in content from the originals. If you want to persuade your audiences in one or multiple foreign cultures that your particular activity or destination is fascinating, desirable, and just what they need to experience in their lives, you have to meet them where they are and base your description on that understanding. How can you do this if you don’t know the subtleties of what this audience wants, how they think about their lives, and what they dream of experiencing in their travels? By making assumptions based on your home audience and their way of thinking you can waste every penny you spend on your promotional materials.
An example from a Malaysian research paper* describes an Australian promotional website that used the theme of “paradise” to try to lure Malaysian visitors to the Blue Mountains of Australia. The Australian enterprise used the English tagline, “Pedal to Paradise in the Blue Mountains,” which they had translated literally into Malay. Unfortunately, “paradise” in Malay – “syurga”— connotes the hereafter in a religious sense and nothing other than that, so the idea felt “unnatural“ and “awkward” to its audience as part of a tourism promotion. Further troubles in this ad came with the attempt to use the idea of making a journey by “pedaling” to try to attract an audience that was not interested in that level of physical effort, and thus the Blue Mountains sounded unreachable.
This example of failure suggests a strategy for successful transcreation of tourism materials for a language service provider working closely with its tourism client:
- Plan on extensive discussions between the tourism client and the LSP about the tourism product and what the client believes its appeal is and what type of tourist will enjoy it.
- Assign a language professional with native-level understanding of the target language.
- Include on the team a translator with creativity and copywriting ability.
- Research the target market and/or assign a linguist with firsthand, up-to-date knowledge of the trends and different demographics in your target market.
When a potential tourist seeks experiences they’re willing to pay for, travel a distance to get to, and open themselves up to enjoy, this is an important quest that can lead to a fairly big commitment on their part. Sometimes the appealing features are straightforward for a specific audience, or maybe word of mouth and online customer reviews have made it easier for the tourist attraction to draw the right customers. But even so almost every tourism experience is an intangible ‘product’ that is not easy for a tourist to be certain of ahead of time, a purchase that is difficult to ‘return’ for a refund. People are highly aware of this risk and want to know what they are getting into.
Whether your tourism materials consist of simple brochures and a website, or an entire multimedia campaign, Skrivanek is equipped to help translate and transcreate every aspect in over 80 languages. Our cultural consultation will ensure that the benefits and joys of your tourist destination are vividly and convincingly described for every target country and demographic you want to reach.
J. V. McShulskis
* The misunderstood concept of translation in tourism promotion, by Mohamed Zain Sulaiman, Malaysia