Words from the Wardrobe

Tourism and challenges for translators – 2021 update

Using translation to build confidence and attract visitors to your destination

Life will never be the same again following the COVID pandemic, especially for those working in travel and tourism.

I felt it would be relevant and useful to update a blog I originally wrote in 2018, with a 2021 edit.

As the world begins to open up again, translations can play a big role in rebuilding confidence for this sector and attracting visitors to your destination. 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. And that it has been worth the long wait to travel again!

Ensuring travellers feel safe and comfortable will go a long way towards helping tourism make a strong and rapid recovery.

The time to prepare for this is now.

Translation alone is not enough

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

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. Many people remember Santander Tourist Board’s website translation, which was translated using Google Translate and translated the museum name Centro Botín as the Loot Centre. (Botín is the surname of the Banco Santander founder, Emilio Botín). After the big controversy raised in the media and social networks, the translations were turned off and new translations were hired, hopefully, to professional translators.

How does translation help travel and 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. With a new one added for 2021!

COVID secure

Making people feel safe and comfortable in the ‘new normal’ is a big challenge for tourism and hospitality and translation will be a very important part of this. Ensuring signage is clear and correct so that tourists understand the protocols for e.g. social distancing, mask wearing and what they should do if they experience COVID symptoms, can give a sense of comfort to travellers.


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 the 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 of the Barceló Hotel Group websites for Spain and Great Britain:

Hotel website featuring a global gateway with English and Spanish translations.
Barceló Hotel Group, an example of how languages should appear on a website.

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.

The travel and tourism industry should go hand in hand with the translation industry to offer tourists better services before, during and after their stay.

We look forward to travelling again soon!

See you for the next post!

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