Boarding a long-haul flight; what a chaotic and stressful experience it is each time. Yet, despite often being a nationally and linguistically diverse group, every passenger feels confident and secure in the hands of the airline.
This is because passengers are well informed with emergency demonstrations and literature provided in different languages, and with clear imagery.
Although hotel risks are different to those in the air, the cultural challenges they face are similar. And at the moment, hotel groups have a lot to learn from the aviation industry in what is becoming an epic tug-of-war between culture and brand image.
Like an airline, it isn’t uncommon for a single hotel brand to span several continents and hundreds of countries, meaning accurate staff-to-guest communication has never been more important. Africa, for example, is a continent with a growing hospitality presence - Hilton, Hyatt and Starwood are all developing there – and this year will see 136,000 new hospitality jobs created in the region.
This expansion can lead to issues. At some point most regular travellers have encountered a sign in a foreign country where the translation fails to convey the intended message.
These real life translations taken from hotels around the world prove just how wide of the mark some messaging can be. Some are funny; “the flattening of underwear with pleasure is the job of the chambermaid”, some are rude; “you are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid”, and some are just gobbledygook; “[guests should] not to perambulate the corridors in the hours of repose in the boots of ascension”.
More often than not, such occurrences are harmlessly amusing. Yet, for international hotel brands, these gaffes could have serious consequences. Poor translations and misunderstanding of cultural differences can lead to guests drinking unsafe water or ignoring “no entry” signs and finding themselves in a restricted part of the hotel, putting them in danger – this is bad for the hotel’s image and a risk to guest wellbeing.
Language is an important part of culture and it’s vital that hotel staff have the correct training to ensure both written and verbal translations are accurate, especially at sites where many nationalities are expected to visit. But culture runs far deeper than language. Staff must also be trained to deal with local and global differences in elements such as etiquette and religious practises. Of course, training staff to be confident with every cultural variation is impossible, especially to such a level that enables them to work with authority and confidence. But like airlines, hotels must be able to convey basic universal safety information with clarity.
However, while understanding cultural differences is vital to a hotel’s success in a new region, it must also be able to infuse brand values to provide guests with a consistent experience across a global network – and this is a fine balance.
The best brands are not only memorable in messaging, name and aesthetics, they are also consistent and dependable; customers know what to expect from their product and/or service and most importantly, trust it. Branding as a whole is a simple concept but on a granular level it can become incredibly complex, covering everything from colour schemes and logos, to marketing and price. In the hotel industry maintaining a consistent image across properties is vital to ensure that customers grow to trust the brand and will hopefully continue to visit other properties around the world.
And a hotel chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
If a guest has a bad experience at one property, it will influence their opinion of the entire brand, potentially meaning a lost customer for life. If this is a serial traveller, businessperson or event planner this could have serious implications on business and even if not, we all know the old clichéd marketing adage that customers are twice as likely to tell a friend about a bad experience than a good one.
Therefore, hotel managers must audit their health and safety standards in a way that ensures guest wellbeing and balances this with brand identity. Auditing must be carried out objectively to set measurables. Internal auditing is likely to be biased towards the brand and those who are responsible will more than likely be inconsistent in their appraisals, and will probably lack experience in auditing a multi-national brand across countries with cultural variances.
It is vital that all issues raised through auditing are addressed and hotels have to invest in understanding customers on a cultural and personal level. After all, guests want to feel like they are guests. This must be done right; how would you feel if you were waiting for take-off on an airplane and the safety manual was littered with mistakes?
A mistranslation doesn’t instil confidence, and confidence is vital to helping guests to trust in a brand, and ultimately be able to relax.