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Localization for Travel Tech: What You Need to Know Now

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This is a guest article by Ofer Tirosh from Tomedes

For software providers, localization and smart translation are key requirements for international expansion. In some cases, it is more important than hiring a local marketing team, although the latter can prove helpful in the localizing process.

Localization comprises processes that prepare apps and other software to be used in more than one country. Translation is often an important part of localizing an application but there may also be cases where linguistic variations take a back seat to other factors such as adapting to the currencies and measurement systems of target countries. Even the word localization requires localization: In the UK, for example, it would be localisation and localised.

Localization and translation must also account for cultural considerations such as colors, symbols, imagery, and more. For travel tech companies, the goal should be to reach more countries at the lowest possible cost. We will explore some best practices for achieving that.

Global vs. Local

Let’s start with global vs. local from the software developer’s point of view. Anything considered global can be used in all instances, regardless of the country or region in which the software is to be deployed. It is obviously in the developer’s interest to maximize what falls into this category.

There is a need to localize and translate not only language-related items but also layout and graphical factors, accommodating the varying spaces that different languages require to say the same thing. German, for example, takes more space in writing than English, and words are often longer.

There is also the fact that not all languages go left to right. Languages like Chinese and Japanese, not surprisingly, have completely different layout and presentation rules than Western languages. The letters or pictograms in Asian languages tend to be more complex and therefore may require more vertical or horizontal space, especially in tight areas like menus and small screens where space is at a premium.

Localization Means More than Just Language

Cultural sensitivities must also be factored in. Certain colors or combinations may be offensive or disliked by locals, whereas others may be perceived as pleasing or lucky.

According to an article in Business Insider, KFC had to reinvent (not just translate) its standard menus and also its product flavors to dominate the Chinese fast-food market. As reported by ABS-CBN news, McDonald’s had to adapt their products to cater to the preference of Filipinos. An article about McSpaghetti talks about transforming it to tantalize the taste-buds of sweets-craving consumers in the Philippines.

The same holds true for any measurement or currency. Many travel tech websites, such as Booking.com and Skyscanner, provide controls to select both display language and desired currency units. Airbnb, now operating in more than 190 countries, extensively uses a “Translate” button and other localization techniques to give users the choice of reading reviews and listings in the original language or to get a translation. Other travel websites presume by default that users accessing a site from one country will prefer to see the language of that country, in some cases overriding the previous selections and preferences of that user. This, for example, is not an optimal outcome for frequent travelers.

Don’t neglect local regulations and legal requirements in various countries. In some countries, the need to localize itself may be a legal requirement: for example, translating into all of the official languages of a particular country, such as Switzerland.

How Software Helps You with Localization

Naturally, these kinds of issues have been considered in software development kits and programming languages. They must be paramount in every localization and translation effort. Each time a “local” factor is encountered, it triggers a lookup process whereby the software will pull from a table/database of values and conventions unique to that locale.

Some of the most successful travel websites allow user control over locations and conventions. If your IP or cookie indicates that you are logging in from a specific country, the software may default to that country as the location.

However, the user may well be a visitor to that country who wants things to appear in the language, currency, and measurement units that are most familiar to them.

Preparing localization data is largely a factor of cataloging and categorizing everything that needs to be localized. Every word, every message, every prompt and tooltip must be in the catalog. Then it’s a relatively straightforward matter to fill in the translation or the equivalent for each value. There are plenty of tools in programming languages, SDKs and third-party localization software to automate this process.

There are also tools for localization testing. Pseudo-localization is the process by which “dummy text” of a target language is generated for purposes of previewing localizability. This helps reveal likely problem areas even before you invest in translation.

Localization Software and Services

Do a Google search and you will find hundreds of companies and products focused on assisting software developers with localization. Indeed, such companies are collectively known as Localization Service Providers or LSPs. Localization is a specialized function that can also fall under product management: Technology consulting companies can advise you how to integrate localization as part of the overall product strategy. LSPs can provide insights and optimizations to save you time, money, and the need to rework. Reach out early in the development process to ensure your software is optimized for localization.

LSPs may be local outfits tuned to a specific market, or they may be companies operating global networks of experts and translators. The former may indeed have more local expertise but the management costs of supervising many such local players may prove unrealistic. Companies should provide “smart human translations” for dozens of languages as well as local expertise to adjust for varying cultural conventions.

Smartling and Transifex are some of the top software localization players, focusing on providing solutions to SaaS (Software as a Service) providers. Cloud translation handles not only the software but also product documentation, customer support processes, and marketing automation.

Localization Strategy Best Practices

Localize in small batches

Should a company localize one country at a time, or do a whole batch at once?

It’s a good question, and experts disagree. On the one hand, starting with a single translation and localization target is a good way to get a handle on the complexities of the process and to identify your specific problem areas in localizing your product for your markets. On the other hand, localizing many locales at once can bring you economies of scale, but may expose general “global” problems in your software that may require rework if initial assumptions were incorrect.

A happy medium may give you the “best bang for your buck” (a phrase that should be localized!). First, identify your top 5 markets, including one or two (if relevant) that are not left-to-right Western languages. Consider undertaking two or three localizations from this priority list, assisted by an LSP with specific expertise in those markets. This approach will let you test your software as well as the ability of the LSP to guide your project. Many LSPs will guarantee the accuracy of their work for periods from one month to a year. To reduce your risk, work with a provider ready to guarantee its work.

Tailor SEO for global and local searches

Global SEO means selecting keywords and targeting a global audience, exposing your products and/or service to your potential clients worldwide. Local SEO, on the other hand, optimizes search results to target an audience in regions. This corresponds to specific searches and keywords by the users in that region.

Usually, a company will want to do both, and to do so for each local version with keyword research for each location. Local SEO has been growing rapidly and you should consult with your LSP on how to tackle this specialized task. You can even narrow the SEO territory to the neighborhood level, and to factor in other personalization factors such as gender and age group.

Local SEO exposes a page in organic search queries for each locality for which it has been optimized and tends to substantially improve conversion rates.

Think globally, but get locals on your team

Look for an LSP with global reach, but make sure in advance that they have both the expertise and boots on the ground in your key markets. You don’t want to be bothered with hands-on supervision of the locals. You want a trusted relationship with a provider with a highly efficient and well-managed network of small teams and freelancers. They will transmit the briefs and instructions, enforce time-discipline, and review for accuracy of translation drafts and subsequent rounds. Rely on an LSP that guarantees its work.

The Bottom Line on Localization and Translation

Localization is a manageable key to your international expansion but it can also be a sinkhole for spending if not handled carefully. Consult with a travel tech consultant with expert knowledge of localization and translation and/or consult an LSP with global reach, strong local connections in your target markets, and a policy that guarantees their work for a significant period. Get started with not one but several localizations. Only after the process has been streamlined and your global software codebase is proven to be localizable should you proceed to tackle additional markets.


Ofer Tirosh is CEO of Tomedes, an international translation and professional communication services company.


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