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Going Global, Locally!

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October 01, 2013
Christoph Oberli
Mark G.Haley, ISHC, CHTP

Most readers of these pages are familiar with the concepts developed in Thomas Friedman’s seminal work The World Is Flat,  where Friedman makes an eloquent case for broad commercial forces driving globalization to make geography and borders less relevant to the way the world works now.  In our experience, we do find the world flattening in many areas. In other aspects, often relevant to hoteliers, we observe localization as the trend of note and one that we focus on for both guest-facing and staff-facing technologies.  This article explores some of the challenges and opportunities in localizing consumer website content for a global audience.

cLocalization Defined
For our purposes, the core element of localization is of course language.  While most international globetrotters prefer English websites, many other consumers want to interact with a website in the language in which they are most comfortable.  Within any given language there are often regional variations:  Portuguese is not quite the same in Brazil as in Portugal, and Castilian Spanish varies from Latin American Spanish.  Variations in languages written in ideograms (Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Japanese and others) are probably the subject of a separate, dedicated article.

Not all languages read from left to right: Arabic and Hebrew read from right to left, and many Asian languages can be written either horizontally or vertically, with computer content generally represented horizontally from left to right.  Some languages, such as German or Russian, require more letters and words to communicate a concept than in English, so a page design based on English content may become degraded when translated into German.

These variations matter, and sophisticated marketers are sensitive to them.  Retailers are particularly adept in this area.  If HP launches a new printer in the province of Quebec, they diligently use Quebecois French rather than the flavor spoken in Paris.  Hospitality brands, that deal with people travelling internationally, are more prone to use a “generic” or international French.

Other aspects of localization include date formats (4/1/2013 may be April Fool’s Day in the United States, but  January 4 in most of the world) and numbering and currency formats ($12,345.67 vs. Euro12.345,67).  

Why Is Localization Important to a Hotel?
The value of localizing website content will be of varying importance for different hotel companies.  A select-service brand with primarily drive locations in secondary and tertiary markets in the United States will invest in localization very differently from a global luxury brand with ultra-luxe properties in gateway cities around the world.
In the case of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group (MOHG), a few facts led to a very disciplined and planned localization strategy. Until the mid-2000s, MOHG’s online bookings came mostly from English speaking territories and expatriate-heavy communities in key Asian destinations.  An English-only website was sufficient.  Then, MOHG embarked upon an international expansion strategy, adding numerous hotels in targeted gateway cities around the world.

The expansion led to a growing number of guests from non-English speaking countries, in parallel with increasing popularity of online bookings across the global luxury community.  With the U.S. economic downturn experienced in 2007-2008, these forces converged to drive the need to showcase a hotel in its local language.  The group seized this opportunity to expand its direct-to-consumer reach.

Today, 19 of its 29 hotels are located in non-English speaking markets; virtually all future planned developments are outside of these territories.  Of all MOHG guests 65 percent come from non-English speaking locations.  When looking at only the online population, still more than 50 percent of visitors are from non-English markets.   Mandarin Oriental’s localization strategy enables a direct conversation with these high-value guests.

Executing the Localization Strategy
Mandarin Oriental needed to source a new Web content management system (CMS) to accommodate the portfolio growth and the need to more rapidly and flexibly add content to its website in 2007.  The group specified an enterprise-grade product that could integrate translation technology as baseline requirements. Two years later, MOHG implemented its first group-wide language websites in six additional languages. Although not all content was translated, the booking engine process was fully translated and localized.

When the group completely relaunched its digital presence in 2012, the designers created a layout and navigation with additional languages in mind.  This design strategy allowed the alternate-language websites to look completely consistent across all languages.  Further, MOHG adopted a strategy of keeping the depth of content generally consistent across languages.

In 2013, Mandarin Oriental  added two completely new languages, each  with their own intricacies and challenges: Russian which reads very long when translated brand-appropriately; and Arabic, reading from right to left and thus requiring complete transposition of the page layout.

In the backend, the CMS holds all the content in all languages.  Every content object is stored in English, and each time new content is created or an update is made, the new content is pushed into a translation management system (TMS) module. The TMS automatically generates initial translations from a content repository based on previous, brand-appropriate terminologies.  Then an automated workflow distributes the translations to native-speaker human copywriters.  The copywriters revise and “Mandarin Oriental-ise” the new copy, after which the edited copy is pushed from TMS to the CMS, where it is published.

This sophisticated technology and workflow automation delivers a number of benefits to Mandarin Oriental including rapid turnaround of translations, consistent language and tone of voice across all hotels, in all languages and at a relatively low cost.

The non-English sites now account for 25 percent of the traffic and 14 percent of the online revenues with measurable and steady grow each month. In many destinations, Mandarin Oriental wins an advantageous competitive position as the only brand offering websites in the local language.  The group leverages this competitive advantage to develop strategic marketing initiatives such as SEO/PPC or direct email campaigns to capture a greater than fair share from a specific market.  Further, the number of languages offered reinforces the group’s positioning as the brand of choice for the global luxury traveler.  With the projected rise of outbound Chinese travel around the world, Mandarin Oriental expects continuous benefits from this strategic investment.

Christoph Oberli is the global vice president for e-commerce and interactive for Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group and is based in New York City.  Mark G. Haley, ISHC, CHTP is managing partner of The Prism Partnership, a Boston-based consulting firm serving the global hotel industry, http://theprismpartnership.com.

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©2013 Hospitality Upgrade
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Lessons Learned

• A global localization strategy needs to be planned carefully, with clear objectives in mind
• Source the relevant partners and solutions to achieve your objectives
• Invest in the upfront development such as the platforms, architecture and technology and try to minimize the ongoing costs
• Establish the brand-appropriate “voice” you wish to communicate in for each chosen language
• Design and execute a strategy to maintain that “voice of the brand” effectively across languages over time
• Last but not least, make sure your booking engine is an integral part of your plan

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