Words from the Wardrobe
translation and tourism

Tourism and challenges for translators

Go beyond translation to attract visitors to your destination


This Wednesday saw the start of Fitur, Spain’s most important tourism fair. It may not be as big as the World Travel Market in London or the ITB in Berlin, but it is the most important date on the Spanish tourism sector’s calendar.

At these fairs, destinations promote themselves and look for partners who can help them with marketing in their countries of origin.

Translation plays a big role in this. From the moment someone starts planning a trip until they are there and even once they are home, translation can help make their experience a positive one.

Translation alone is not enough

Over the past few years, I have been to numerous business events on the Costa del Sol. When I speak to someone from the tourism sector (usually hotel managers) and tell them that I am a translator and I work with many companies from their sector, they often reply by saying, “Lots of our staff speak different languages so we do all our translations internally”.

Their staff who speak languages —usually the receptionists in the case of hotels— are trained to do their job: deal with hotel guests in their language or a common language (often English). However, if they are asked to translate a text, they can make mistakes, as they don’t see the texts from the end user’s culture.

That’s why these translated texts are often full of literal, inaccurate and incoherent translations. A very recent example is Santander Tourist Board’s website translation, which was translated using Google Translate. After the big controversy raised in the media and social networks, the translations have been turned off and new translations will be hired, hopefully, to professional translators.

How does translation help tourism?

Translation and tourism. Challenges for translators.

The infographic shows some of the challenges involved in translating tourism-related texts. I am going to explain why they are important for your business too.


Maps, guide books and leaflets show places that tourists may be interested in visiting, such as monuments, streets, squares and buildings. They often include information about the history or local expressions that the translator must research so that they can convey them in their language and the reader can understand them.


There are many different types of tourist, and each one has their priorities. What’s more, not all countries have the same type of outbound tourism. If you do your market research, you’ll know which countries may show more interest in your establishment or destination and can decide the content you should prioritise in your international strategy. Remember: you don’t have to translate everything!


If you own a hotel and have a booking engine on your website, it’s important that you earn your customers’ trust. Giving them an approximate price in their currency and adapting to the payment method that is most common in their country will help the customer start to form a good opinion of your business.


As I have explained in a previous post, Spanish is spoken in many countries and has many variants. Besides avoiding confusion, using the correct Spanish variant is also a sign that you respect your potential customers.

For example, if your ideal customer is a Mexican tourist, it doesn’t make very much sense if you translate your website into the Spanish used in Spain. I also think it is not a good idea to use flags to display the languages on your website for that very same reason. Flags represent a country, while languages represent a community.

If you translate your website from English into Mexican Spanish, how do you think a potential customer from Tijuana might feel if they came across the Spanish flag when choosing their language? The best thing you can do is write the name of the country and the variant. See below an example from Barceló Hotel Group:

idiomas en páginas de hotel

Barceló Hotel Group, an example of how languages should appear on a website.

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This is useful for hotel, cruise, airline and car rental websites, or ultimately any e-commerce website. Similar to pricing, it’s important to gain your customers’ trust. This trust can also be built when you translate those website sections that are often left out.


I’m sure you’ve seen many menu translations that have left a lot to be desired, but food tourism is much more than merely going to a restaurant. It’s about discovering a vineyard in California, a patisserie in Sicily, a brewery in an abbey in Belgium, and delving into its history and processes. Showing all of this to tourists in their language helps make the experience more positive, for the tourist and for you too.


Translators are cultural mediators, as you already know, and that’s where we can pick up if a translation was done by a workmate (i.e. another translator) or your mate. Translators use many tools to create texts that read like original pieces in their mother tongue, including metaphors, adaptations, explaining concepts that do not exist in the target country, adding other items that are necessary in the target language and using the correct punctuation.


You should always use a little creativity when expressing your message, whether it’s a tweet, a blog post or a note that you leave guests in their room. As translators, we need to use the same amount of creativity in our translations as the writer in the source language did.

Tourism and translation are two sectors that should go hand in hand to offer tourists better services before, during and after their stay.

Let’s do tourism together!

Until next time!

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