Globalization Lessons from the Travel Industry

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A highly mobile user base

This year, more than one billion people will travel internationally. And as shown in the chart below, Europe and Asia represent the largest destination markets overall.

a highly mobile user

And even if your customers don’t travel internationally, domestic travel is also surging around the world — with more than five million domestic travelers per year.

These statistics are significant in illustrating the fundamental challenge that the travel industry faces — serving a highly mobile, globally diverse user base.

Travelers may access your website before taking a trip, during that trip, or after that trip. And each of these interactions may involve different devices, locations, networks, and demands.

These requirements force companies to think well beyond a simple desktop website, and are a major reason why companies such as Hotels.com and Booking.com emerged in the top 25 websites in the 2014 Web Globalization Report Card.

Every challenge is an opportunity. Because your customers may interact with your company via different devices, you have an opportunity to gain an edge over competitors if you can provide a decisively better experience across one or more of these devices.

By adjusting your frame of mind into some of these thought you can really gain much more than success in the travel industry, you can gain lifelong knowledge. A few things to keep in mind when thinking global are to think mobile, think outside the US, use User-generated Content (UGC), and disregard Google Translate as your saving grace; you need much more than a simple translation in the travel industry these days. Below are globalization lessons you should take into account when dealing with the travel industry.

When thinking globally, think mobile

While customers in more developed markets often interact with companies via PC-based websites, customers in emerging markets are more likely to interact via cellular devices. Consider the following chart, a list of the leading countries in terms of mobile devices:

Country              Mobile Devices

China                      1,227,360,000

India                       1,104,480,000

United States           327,577,529

Brazil                         271,100,000

Russia                        256,117,000

Indonesia                  236,800,000

Pakistan                    130,583,076

Japan                         121,246,700

Nigeria                      114,000,000

Germany                   107,000,000

Source: Wikipedia (multiple sources)

India surpassed one billion mobile users over the past year. And Brazil surpassed Russia to take over the fourth spot.

If you’re focusing on markets such as China, Russia, Indonesia, and Brazil, a mobile strategy is not just a luxury but a necessity. It’s also important to understand the types of devices (and operating systems) that dominate these markets. Of the one billion cellular users in China, the majority use Android-powered devices.

Finally, you need to know the network speeds and data plans that customers in each market experience. For example, if users pay a high price for data, they will be less likely to use a mobile app or website that relies on extraneous images or videos.

US-only companies also need to consider globalization session

A hotel chain that has no plans of expanding beyond the US still can’t help but consider the advantages of taking its website global. After all, the number of international visitors to the US is a fast-growing market.

According to the US Department of Commerce, a record 69.8 million international visitors traveled to the US in 2013, three million more than the year before. Here are the top countries from which these visitors originate:

us only companies

Note the 23% increase in the number of Chinese visitors to the US since 2012. It goes without saying that all hotel chains need to have a Chinese localization strategy — even if they have no plans of entering China.

User-generated content is as important as company generated content

TripAdvisor commissioned a report from the firm PhoCusWright to survey how people go about booking hotels. The survey found that more than half of all respondents (53 percent) will not book a hotel that does not have any reviews on the website. And 80% of users read between 6-12 reviews before making a booking decision.

TripAdvisor is now in the process of giving users a choice of reviews across languages. Shown below, a user on the US website can select which languages to view first.

user gnerated 2

So even if your company translates all corporate content, you might still be missing local-language customer reviews. And you might also want to give customers in local markets an opportunity to make their reviews known. According to the study, 74% of respondents stated that they write reviews because they want to share a good experience with other travelers.

Finally, it’s important that local offices engage with users in the local languages — not only on the website and review websites but across social networks. According to the TripAdvisor study, 57% of users agree that seeing hotel management responses to reviews generally “makes me more likely to book it (versus a comparable hotel that didn’t respond to travelers).”

TripAdvisor is giving users access to as much content as they want — including what language they may want.

Google translate alone is not a translation strategy

Google Translate is an amazing resource, with support for more than 80 language pairs — far more languages than any website in this report currently supports. That said, do not expect a Google Translate widget to solve your localization problems.

Too many websites in this report use Google Translate without considering the usability implications, such as text embedded within visuals (which is not translated) and overlapping or clipped text.

google translate alone

If you are going to use Google Translate (or any MT widget) here are some tips:

  • Manage user expectations. Don’t create the impression to users that if they select “Brazil” they can expect a fully localized website for their country — and then default to a Google Translate interface, as shown above. Users will certainly get some content of value, but it’s just as likely they will be disappointed as well.
  • Create “translation ready” web pages. Google Translate works best on web pages that are completely text based, with no text embedded within visuals. You also need flexible designs, so that text expansion (as text goes from one language to another) doesn’t result in clipped or overlapping text.
  • Professionally translate a core set of web pages. At a minimum, invest in the professional translation of enough web pages to give users a good introduction to your website. Then you may selectively try machine translation to “unlock” additional content — but let users know upfront that they will be using these widgets.

Now that you are well equipped with four important globalization lessons in order to succeed in the travel industry you can look forward to achieving your company’s full success. After all Kofi Annan did say, “Knowledge is power”. Now that you have the knowledge, you can also obtain power in the travel industry.

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