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Is it silly to think that there’s still a term as ‘culture shock’ still existing in the age of globalisation? If you assume the answer to that is ‘Yes’, you probably haven’t heard of the term ‘Paris syndrome’. It’s a condition with symptoms similar to those of manic depression that is commonly viewed as a severe form of culture shock. Japanese tourists with an idealised image of Paris seem to be vulnerable to it when facing the reality of an unwelcoming and not so romantic city. Of course, this can be extended to virtually any city in the world and to all tourists, not just Japanese ones.

Travel can (and should) be a greatly rewarding and pleasurable experience, but apparently it could also drive people crazy. While hospitality professionals cannot eliminate all obstacles their guests face, they can do a lot to optimise the traveller’s experience. One sure way to do that is by getting to know who their customers are and by tailoring the offered service accordingly.

Understanding the customer’s language and cultural peculiarities, needs and expectations, is essential for the success of the hotel industry. That is especially important in today’s intensely competitive environment, when standing out, winning and keeping customers seems close to impossible. This is why hotel professionals’ efforts should be focused on indulging guests.

Training hotel staff adequately means ensuring successful cross-cultural and multilingual communication. And communication is a fundament of hospitality. Each and every hospitality business must plan and deliver with that premise in mind.
In their mission and value statements most hotels place special emphasis on customer satisfaction, but not all of them put that in practice. If all they provide for customers is a one-size-fits-all solution, ignoring their specific cultural and language needs, promises are left unmet.

There are three critical phases in which personnel communication and language skills matter most: marketing, service and feedback.

Marketing
In order to effectively attract visitors, hotels need to translate all informational and advertising materials (including websites) in targeted languages preferably by using a specialised marketing translation service. Relying on a non-specialist provider, or even worse, on a free service (such as Google translate) will have serious consequences as it happened in the past (you can read about some famous cross-cultural blunders in translation and little translation mistakes that caused big problems).

Translating marketing collateral involves creativity and outside-the-box thinking, a process called transcreation. It also involves localisation, which goes beyond translating words; it involves adapting colours, pictures and more – for example, white is generally regarding as denoting purity, cleanliness, but in China it is the colour of mourning. So if you have a lot of Chinese guests, it’s definitely something worth considering.

However, relying solely on written materials may mean failing to effectively sell your service.

Training hotel employees in the essential language and norms of the client target groups is a sign of respect. Furthermore, even today not all is done online. Some travellers prefer booking by phone and may have additional questions and requirements. If the booking agent, for example, doesn’t succeed in effectively communicating with them and sell the service, prospective customers may never turn into actual ones.

Providing High Quality Services and Making Foreign Visitors Feel Welcome
Leonard Berry and his colleagues have identified five key factors that customers use to evaluate overall quality of service: reliability, tangibles, responsiveness, assurance, and empathy. Four of those are directly related to the ability of employees to deliver service in the way the customer expects.

In Asian cultures pointing is considered rude. In some Balkan countries shaking your head means ‘Yes’ and nodding means ‘No’. Think of how rude the inverted V-sign is to a Briton, while for people from other countries it means nothing. Similarly, the popular crossed fingers for good-luck will be frowned upon by Vietnamese guests. Guests who come from countries with high service cultures (Japan or USA, for example) have higher expectations when traveling abroad and staying in hotels. There’s clear evidence that national differences in visitor communication and expectations do exist. Therefore the services should be customised and the hotel staff has to be adequately trained.

Successful communication includes not only cultural differences but also language. It’s commonly accepted that English is enough in working with international customers. Assuming that all customers speak English equals mediocre service. Hospitality approach demands going beyond that basic premise and customising hotel amenities and services according to targeted non-English speaking markets.

Guest Feedback and Service Development
Providing accommodation and meeting the cultural and communicational needs of the customers, is only the first and most basic step for developing hospitality based business. In order to remain competitive, hotels need to constantly study their guests and keep developing the provided services.

Successful hoteliers understand the importance of guest feedback and use guest satisfaction tracking programs to guide day-to-day management, as well as long-term strategies. Allowing guests to give that crucial feedback in their own language is the last, but not least important step in delivering a high quality service.

Instead of merely selling a product or a service, hotels nowadays aim to create experience. Doing business effectively means multilingualism. Hospitality professionals should learn to speak the language and respond to the culture of their guests. Hotels need to actively attract, provide a warm and sensitive approach to the guest’s specific needs to ensure they return time after time.

Alina Cincan HeadshotAlina Cincan
A former teacher, translator and interpreter with over 10 years’ experience, total language geek, avid reader, Managing Director at Inbox Translation, a London based translation agency that offers marketing translation services for the Hospitality industry (and not only). When I am not writing on my own blog, I am writing on other peoples. I have a soft spot for sushi, books, shoes and make-up.
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