What does World Tourism Day mean for the translation industry?

August 29, 2018
What does World Tourism Day mean for the translation industry?

The relationship between tourism and a language is complex and intricate. Experiencing the thrill of hearing another language is an exciting part of travelling overseas. However, for some countries, their language has proven to be a barrier to tourism. In others, the over-use of languages designed to appeal to tourists has taken away from the original charms of the destination. 

As World Tourism Day (27 September 2018) approaches, we take a look at some of the issues arising from the interplay of tourism and language, and consider what the day means for the translation sector. 

Language as a barrier to tourism

Part of experiencing another culture is to enjoy the sound of its language, which can often seem so alien to the untrained ear. However, being surrounded by a language that you can’t comprehend is not without its difficulties. If that language is written in a script you can’t read as well, it can create even more issues. 

According to Yale University, language has played a role in keeping tourists away from Japan. While other countries have been cashing in on tourism’s growing importance to the global economy (travel and tourism accounted for 10.2% of global GDP and 292 million jobs in 2016), Japan has struggled to compete. 

Now, Japanese translation services are helping to redress the balance. Satoru Kanazawa, director general of the transport ministry's tourism department, confirms:

“We need to provide infrastructure to make it easier for independent foreign travelers to get around.”

So far, that has meant introducing a station code system for the notoriously warren-like Tokyo subway system. With few non-Japanese signs, the system was a complex and daunting prospect for travelers. Now, however, every Tokyo subway station has been given both a numeric and an alphabetical designation, while an English-language subway map has been made available at stations. It includes instructions on how to use the subway system in English, Korean, Chinese and Japanese.

Japan also has a problem with the price of its accommodation, so far as many visitors are concerned. Domestic demand is mainly for short-stay accommodation. Those looking to stay for longer often struggle to find anything at a more reasonable cost, instead having to pay the considerably more expensive short-stay prices. Again, translation has come to the rescue, with the Japanese government launching a multilingual website that provide details of reasonably priced accommodation for foreign visitors. 

Over-translation as a barrier to tourism

While Japan has suffered as a result of a lack of translation, countries such as Spain and Portugal have in some areas gone to the other extreme. Stroll through the pretty marina area of Vilamoura or along the clifftop shopping promenade at Praia da Rocha in Portugal’s Algarve and your senses are bombarded with sign after sign offering fried breakfasts and English-language television. Many areas of Spain’s Costa del Sol have suffered the same fate. 

For those looking to experience an authentic taste of Iberia, such areas have been ruined by the over-use of foreign languages. The combination of large, English-only-speaking expat populations and tourists who haven’t the slightest inclination to learn a few words of Spanish or Portuguese means that the original culture of many areas has become obscured. While many tourists seem happy with this arrangement, some of the more discerning are shunning such areas in favour of locations where they still have a chance of experiencing the local language. 

Preparing for World Tourism Day 2018

For the translation industry, World Tourism Day 2018 presents an opportunity to support countries around the globe with their efforts to engage with tourists in a way that still respects the local culture. Translation and localization services for the tourism sector are in much demand at this time of year. As such, if you’re a professional translator, it’s time to be prepared! 

If you are already engaged with the preparations for World Tourism Day 2018, why not leave a comment below and share your experiences with your fellow translators? 


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