How important is website translation in the Asia-Pacific region?

It has been announced that leading Asian OTA Ctrip has ‘deepened its relationship’ with global travel brand AccorHotels, allowing its 300 million+ registered users to access ‘personalized experiences’ from Accor’s multinational portfolio. The latest update to the Accor-Ctrip partnership is structured around “four strategic pillars”: highlighting Accor hotels more prominently on the Ctrip website, building a flagship online storefront for the brand, the development of joint loyalty programs and “co-operation on IT”.

It’s far from the first move from Accor when it comes to charming Chinese visitors - the group have been accrediting hotels to its ‘Chinese Optimum Standards’ program for over five years. However, the announcement comes amidst a general uptick in European and American hotel brands making the effort to accommodate visitors from Asia both online and on-property. A 2017 survey conducted by IPSOS on behalf of Hotels.com revealed that Chinese travelers identified language translation as a key area of improvement for the hotel industry, and given the cohort’s sizable spending power it’s no surprise that we’re increasingly seeing hotels in Europe and the States offer Chinese-language versions of their websites.

This got us thinking about translation in the other direction. Is there a similar motivation among hoteliers in Asia to provide European-language versions of their sites? Or is the strength of intra-regional travel still so strong that it makes sense to prioritize translation for other Asian countries?

Will non-English speakers book in English?

Asia accounted for more than one in five trips made by EU citizens outside the EU in 2016, with €25.5 billion being spent on over 260 million nights at hotels and vacation homes. That amount is dwarfed, though, by the volume of travel from other Asian countries. The UNWTO’s 2017 report into Asia Tourism Trends found that 80% of travel in the Asia-Pacific region is intraregional, with outbound demand led by China - the world’s leading source market for tourism since 2012. Hotels in the region are catering for an increasingly mixed market of very varied spending habits, with many having to make the calculation of who they prioritize in their marketing efforts.

We wanted to get an idea of whether it’s worth it for hotels in the region to translate their websites into any other European language apart from English, or whether the experience of high-volume local traffic should be the focus. Anecdotal evidence suggests that hotels with even a very high amount of foreign guests are converting the vast majority of their reservations in English, suggesting that non-native English speakers are willing and/or expecting to use English to communicate in the Asia-Pacific region. Tours and packages are also a common way for American and European travelers to plan trips to Asia, removing potential linguistic friction as the booking can be made via a third party in the guest's own language. In the online travel booking market in Singapore, for example, the largest segment of bookings come via package holidays, with a market volume of US$482m in 2018.

The case for translation

The case for translating into European languages apart from English will be different for every hotel, and will depend on how the estimated return compares to the cost and effort of the translation. Guests are clearly more likely to convert the more comfortable they are on a website, and the best case scenario is of course that every guest would be able to navigate the website and booking engine in their own language. Cohort analysis can help to determine whether your bottom line would likely benefit from translation. If you have high volumes of traffic from e.g. Germany, but a very low conversion rate associated with that traffic, website translation could be one measure you invest in to raise that conversion rate and capitalize on clear interest from guests from that country. If you have low traffic but a high conversion rate associated with guests coming from e.g. Italy, you may not need to worry about your website translation so much but rather making sure you're available to Italian travelers further up the funnel, for example with PPC ads targeted at browsers in Italy.

There's also the elephant in the room: artificial intelligence. We wrote last year about the pocket-sized translator released by Ctrip and Baidu with the potential to offer accurate on-the-go translation for Chinese travelers. And, despite the inherent difficulties with accurately automating language translation, AI-driven translation is supposedly approaching "human parity" in its levels of accuracy. We are all already familiar with how Google offers to translate webpages when it detects they're not in your pre-set browser language; while those translations don't feel 'human' now, there's a possibility that they will be indistinguishable from professional translations in the near future. In that eventuality, the burden of translation would be removed from the site providers.

While the world of translation is changing fast, one thing is certain - the guest experience needs to be put at the forefront of any decision-making process. User surveys, analytics data, and anecdotal evidence from others in your region can all play into deciding what is best for your website.

Are you a hotelier operating in Asia-Pacific? We'd love to talk about your experiences in the competitive online booking market. Get in touch with our writers at content@triptease.com if you'd like to feature on our blog!



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About The Author

Lily is Head of Content at Triptease. When she's not investigating the industry or spreading the word that #DirectIsBest, she enjoys music, cycling, and obscure radio quiz shows.