Category Archives: Cultural Optimisation

Japan – u lu tu ra book ;)

Last week I attended the International Digital Forum in London. The IDF is a largely unknown but fantastically excellent gathering of internationalisation specialists, where typically some blue chip companies, as well as OBAN Multilingual will take the stage and talk about their efforts, their struggles and what they have learned from their attempts to either expand, or optimise their operations in various countries and foreign languages.

I almost never get enthusiastic about events. However, IDF seems to have managed to become an exception; one of the main reasons for my enthusiasm (and why I am definitely inviting my hotel clients for the October encore) is a combination of truly cutting-edge information on what is important in an international arena, and the immediacy and honesty of the speakers (this time it was OBAN, Fujitsu and Wiggle).

Unlike the “look-at-me” presentations that one gets to attend so often, the speakers were refreshingly honest about what they learned from each market. In fact the snippets of accumulated wisdom (usually on the back of entertaining misunderstandings) make IDF an event that is as much fun as one can have at work (at least without breaking some important rules). I basically cannot recommend it enough.

One of the most interesting and entertaining parts of the day was when the head of marketing at Wiggle spoke about their success in Japan, the truly intelligent and unique efficiencies in their operations (that clearly played a significant role in their enviable growth), but also the truly funny occasions where things didn’t go quite as planned.

As Far East languages are very often a central point in our discussions with our customers, I stayed after the event and spoke to some of OBAN’s managers about Japan…
I thought that this time round, instead of giving you the load-down of the details, I might as well just show you a small highlight of what I think was the main point: Cultural differences going beyond the language itself.

The example below shows how someone as well-equipped and proficient as  mighty INTEL understands that not all markets should be treated the same.

The link here, will open a new window that will show you INTEL’s advert of what they have coined as Ultrabook laptop computers (think MacBook Air, and you are there).

Now, the link here, will show you how INTEL had to slightly change this Western world advert to better connect to their Japanese audience…

Food for thought!

Best,

Yannis Anastasakis
CEO ehotelworks
www.ehotelworks.com
@ehoteworks

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Filed under Cultural Optimisation, eCommerce, Hotels, International, Marketing, Multilingual, People, Sales Strategies

China is now the world’s largest smartphone market

Recently, I have been asked by sevearal hoteliers to build Chinese versions of their websites.

Given our rather unusual performance-related payment model, I have been doing some digging around, to find out more on the potential of growth from that particular market. A few days of research, and a visit to the excellent 1st International Digital Forum, I am delighted to report that it is mostly impressive news.

I was prompted to write about the Chinese market when the BBC reported yesterday that the Chinese smartphone market finally caught up, and even overtook (by some 1 million devices sold) the USA market last quarter. This is obviously a significant milestone, and one to which we should be paying attention. The smartphone market is both extremely young, extremely fast growing and extremely significant in every measurable way. For many, it represents the future of not only computing, but the internet as well. And that means the Western world is left in an “interesting” place…

When Neil Mawston, Executive Director of Strategy Analytics, was asked to comment on the news that the smartphone market of China is now bigger than that of the US, he said:

“China has become a large and growing market that no hardware vendor, component maker or content developer can afford to ignore”.

Source: BBC.co.uk

If hoteliers are to compete for internet business from China, they have to roll up their sleeves and get to work!

The internet for the Chinese people is dominated by a company called Baidu – pretty much as Google and Facebook dominate the markets here. Given the size of the internet market over there, and the pace of growth of Baidu (in multiple markets), one cannot conceive to look at the Chinese audiences without looking at what Baidu does.

The company has been on the news a lot lately. It launched back in September Baidu Yi – its own version of mobile operating system (like Google has Android over here), which will do everything that Android does, with some nice iPhone iOS-like add-ons. Also, Baidu has also just announced its partnership with Dell, for Dell to run Baidu Yi on their mobile devices sold in China.

Looking a little further, we see Alibaba (one of the world’s biggest internet conglomerates) launching its own mobile OS in Chinese, found on their own K-Touch mobile smartphone, whilst every other mobile phone provider is making up their minds on how to enter the market.

In fact, only two days ago the US Agriculture secretary visited China to boost trade agreements between the two countries, and Japan announced the merger of its Osaka and Tokyo exchanges in a bid to compete with China.

It seems to me that everyone knows where growth is set to take place. The importance of the Chinese market is now more prevalent than ever, and the trend will not be changing any time soon. Whilst most of the western international markets are at a plateau – or even spectacularly declining (like the economy of my home-country), the words “boom”,”growth” and “development” seem to be permanently associated with the extraordinary economy of China.

The “leap” from a growing economy of billions of inhabitants to a source market that potentially generates additional travellers to our hotels does not require a particularly strong imagination. Where there is boom, there is money; and where there is money, there is a potential source market.

With travel restrictions having been greatly lifted, the Chinese are now allowed to book their flights and accommodation pretty much as the rest of us do. Hence, there is a growing potential in this vast, exploding source market. Although traditions and habits will probably need some time before they start tentatively changing, a tentative change in the Chinese travel patterns, is a tsunami of change for the rest of us.

Every additional 1% of the Chinese people that book their holidays or business trips over here, will represent 14 million additional travellers. That is very nearly one Chinese person for every international tourist that has visited London in 2010!

This is the time for hoteliers to look East and see an opportunity for growth. It is for that reason that I currently strongly suggest to all my clients to consider not only building a new website in Chinese; I also prompt them to ensure they are working with a booking engine that has embraced the mobile internet space – preferably through an app-like booking environment.

With thanks for reading,

Yannis Anastasakis
CEO
BABEL Multilingual

——

If you are interested in seeing some examples of our work in Chinese website re-building, please just visit us here.

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Filed under Cultural Optimisation, eCommerce, Hotels, International, Marketing, Multilingual, Search Engine Optimisation

Foreign gemütlichkeit in the UK

Looking at the primary findings of a recent hotel online market research we conducted, it became somewhat obvious that multilingual international travellers are not “chased” by hoteliers. Unlike the occasionally surprising proficiency one can find in a hotelier’s online strategy when it comes to same-language markets, international source markets are – to put it mildly – mostly ignored. This suggests a significant opportunity for hotels, in the form of what is – in every way that counts – a “new” marketplace; one in which linguistic barriers have so far kept the competition away!

If you are a hotelier, think of your PPC and SEO efforts… do you think you are selling to the Japanese in the same way that you are selling to the Brits? I am afraid that unless you KNOW the answer to be “yes”… you aren’t.

Although this changes dramatically from market to market, the rule of thumb for the top city destinations around the world seems to be that a disproportionally low number of hotels chase international business.

For such markets (think London, New York, Chicago, Miami, Paris, Munich etc.) this imbalance is presenting us with an interesting dynamic of supply and demand. On the one hand we have some finite and proportionately small – and (in most western countries) fairly accurately measured – demand for local accommodation from international markets. On the other hand, we have a very low number of hotels that appear to be interested in, and actively trying to reach, international markets. There also seems to be a very clear divide between large international chains and independent hotels – irrespectively of the standing or reputation of the properties in question.

It would be somewhat impolite for me to point to any specific properties here. But, to get an idea of the point that I am trying to make without naming any names, think of the 5  independent quality hotels in London that spring to your mind. Find them in Google and see if you can find any languages there… Now, I know they have their reasons for this – maybe they really don’t need any more business directly to their website – at least not at an additional cost. However, the conclusion (which will be visited again further down in this entry) is clear. If you want to stay in one of those hotels, and you happen to come from Japan, you pretty much have to find and book this hotel via an agency.

Now, it is personally important to me to mention here that the more I study, the more suspicious I grow of statistics and evidence. However, I have to agree that the figures available to us suggest a staggering opportunity for independent hoteliers, in the international/multilingual markets as a whole. In the case of certain cities with strong international demand, only those hotels that can speak the customer’s language (literally) have the chance to attract international traffic directly to their own website. The rest, don’t.

You Are Not Alone

Figures for international inbound travel to the UK are readily available for anyone with an interest in accessing them. One of my favourite sources is www.visitbritain.org who frequently update their figures and implicitly remind us of the magnitude of the opportunity in the international traveller. A good summary of the latest update on international tourism facts can be found straight on their website here (http://www.visitbritain.org/insightsandstatistics/inboundtourismfacts/index.aspx).

Some of the quoted figures are truly staggering. Almost 30 million visitors in 2010 have generated almost 16.9 billion pounds in revenue to the country, and certain key performance indicators have pretty much stayed the same over the last four years – despite the rare turmoil in the international and domestic markets since 2008. More than half of those visitors (52%) were visiting London.

The Language Mosaic

There is no escaping that we live in a multicultural, multilingual world. The consequential complexities and inconsistent (and even incompatible) patterns of consumer behaviour between the various international markets make marketing to such an international audience a seriously complex affair. The very simple fact that a hotel is ideally trying to sell the same room to anyone in the world who potentially wants to come to the area, makes it all more tricky than we would ideally like it to be.

However, and as it often happens with similar populations, there are some demand patterns that can make our lives a little easier…

The – almost – 80/20 rule

It turns out that almost 70% of all international visits in 2010 happened from the top 10 source countries (only 10% of the countries that have direct flights to Britain). The top ten in terms of market volume and spent can be seen in the table below:

Source: VisitBritain.org 2011

We also know that not all visitors behave the same way. The reasons behind travelling (e.g. VFR vs. Business Travel), the age of the visitor, as well as the source country itself can make a great difference in the suitability of a traveller for any particular hotel.
Furthermore, from a linguistic point of view (and despite that with the exception of two English-speaking countries (USA and Australia) all other top 10 source countries (by volume) are within Europe) the complexity that we are faced with isn’t too scary…

The Big Four

Looking at the table above, and making the assumption that all the Dutch visitors speak English (I have yet to come across a Dutch person that doesn’t speak English better than I do) leaves us with four major foreign language “powered” contributors to inbound international travel in the UK. France, Germany, Spain and Italy. These four countries alone represent exactly one third of all the international visitors that came to the UK in 2010!

Lost in Translation?

According to eye4travel (2008) some 70% of all internet users don’t speak English at all, or are uncomfortable using it for transactions… this is obviously a figure that refers to everyone with a computer and an internet connection, and we would be dishonest with ourselves if we didn’t assume that international travellers are more likely to speak English than the average user. Yet, the significance of language barriers is pretty evident from that figure – 70% is a high number in any language, and so is 60% or even 50%.

In any case, I believe that there are only two significant questions to be asked by any hotelier trying to increase its direct traffic.

1. “Do I think that international travellers understand my site when they visit it?

Before anyone raises their hand to talk about Google Translations and risk giving me an aneurysm (however brilliant and useful their translations tools are) I would like to ask you the even more pertinent and logically preceding question:

2. Do you think that travellers from abroad are actually able to find you online, in order to have the opportunity to try and understand what you are selling to them?”

…..

Even if it were only a minority of international inbound travellers that didn’t speak English (and it isn’t), them being unable to find your website in the first place is – I am sure you would agree – a major issue!

If you are a hotelier and you’re are reading this, the chances are that you are already doing some SEO and PPC for your website. Also, the chances are that you are NOT doing SEO or PPC for your German, French, Japanese etc. potential customers. Hilton is, Marriot is, and crucially Expedia, LastMinute and Bookings do (have a look at the Google screen captures below).

At eHotelworks, when we were thinking of offering the BABEL Multilingual product, we run multiple search tests from several countries for multiple types of hotels, using a variety of languages and IP locations (in other words we were pretending we were searching for UK hotels from abroad).

The results were really fascinating. From certain countries (most clearly show in Holland than anywhere else) the evident problem of being found appeared to be little. In Dutch searches, hotels without international languages on their sites produced mixed results (and much better than we expected).

It seems that the Dutch’s ability to speak perfect English has permeated Google’s results. A lot of hotels – especially in what we call “narrow” searches (e.g. “hotel name” and “location” were used as search terms) – did come up in the first pages, no problem.

On the other extreme, in countries and languages where English is not a prominent language or the language has a significantly different alphabet (Japanese, Arabic, etc.) no searches gave us any independent hotel results at all. Even when we were looking for hotels by their exact name and location, only agencies came back with results. Fascinatingly, Bookings.com – presumably through their very popular xml feed based service – seemed to power the staggering majority of results in the more obscure source markets (such as Greece in the example below).

Have a look at the example of two searches (used the keywords “hotel in London”) here:

First, from England, in English

Search Results for "Hotels in London" in Egnlish, and for England

Even for the traditionally expensive keywords "hotel in London" there is a multitude of hotels having their direct links seen. Especially in the Local Results section.

Then from Greece, in Greek

Results for a search on Hotels in London in Greek

You don't have to speak Greek to notice that there are NO results, either organic or paid for, which belong to a hotel. The OTAs have the opportunity to rule the first pages of Google. Even the mighty Marriott and Hilton of this world have to give those bookings away to OTAs.

The inability of hotelier to market to the many – and obscure – international languages is arguably – and at least in part – justified. As those that do engage in the “get the international traveller” game would testify, the law of diminishing returns applies with unforgiving realism.  After the first few “top-tier” languages have been put together and offered to consumers, adding more languages is not necessarily a good idea. Going after certain countries that represent only a very small proportion of the overall inbound UK market is simply too expensive for the returns this market will generate, and therefore a good commercial decision to leave them out.

It is most likely for that reason that you don’t get to see Expedia, Hotels.com, LastMinute etc. featuring in the Greek search results of Google above… It is too expensive to build Expedia in Greek and their commercial model is nowhere near as attractive to local wannabe OTAs as that of Bookings who seem to thrive over there not only through XML feeds to smaller operators, but also directly, on their own two feet.

So what is one to do?

Some markets are – I would argue – no-brainers! With a third of all international travel to London coming from France, Germany, Spain and Italy, and (statistically speaking) with only a fraction of the hotels in your competitive set offering rooms to these countries through their own websites, there is a huge internationalisation opportunity that should generate some real results.

Whatever your country, do talk to us. BABEL Multilingual is of the risk-free variety and I certainly believe in it. The nature of building and maintaining international presence against the OTAs doesn’t have to be alienating or difficult. We think it is completely worth it.

Thank you for reading – as always we are completely open, interested and grateful for any feedback you may have.

Yannis Anastasakis
Director

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The Royal Park Hotel in London now speaks German

Our first hotel under the BABEL Multilingual brand is now live in German. We are delighted to have delivered the German Version of the Royal Park Hotel’s website to the world, and we are now looking forward to the first direct reservations from the country.

www.theroyalpark.de

The Royal Park in London now speaks fluent German (and is learning French)

Massimilano Naspi, Head of Distribution for the Royal Park Hotel said:

We were attracted by BABEL Multilingual because it was an obvious – and risk free – way for us to increase our international exposure. We were impressed with both the quality of the work that was delivered, but also the ease with which both our website and our booking engine were translated and marketed from within Europe…

The end result is that we now truly have a fighting chance to get international reservations straight on our website, and away from the competition – however big or established they may be. I am very happy with this product.

Yannis Anastasakis, Director and owner of Electronic Hotelworks expressed his delight for the first BABEL Multilingual site becoming reality.

This is not an ordinary translation by any stretch of the imagination. As far as I am aware, our services are a world-first in multilingual website re-construction and international optimisation, as we bring together a unique blend of quality of work and an agency-like pricing model. This is a risk free product for hotels and I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to sell roomnights everywhere in the world through BABEL. It just makes sense.”

…”we are particularly proud that we seem to have achieved our aim to ensure that this is easy for the hotelier. Everything, from accessing the .com website files and re-building the website content, to picking up and translating rate-plans, room-types and hotel descriptions (as well as everything else that can be found on the booking engine) was done with great ease for them…
… for the hotelier, building an international BABEL site is proving to be a process that is much, much easier and simpler than building an original .com site – despite the very detailed work we have to do behind the scenes. And all this whilst creating excellent levels of incremental international exposure for the hotels. All this couldn’t have been done without some great partnerships with OBAN Multilingual and CookieBite.net so my sincere thanks to them too.”

“I am told that the team at the Royal Park were so happy with the delivery and execution of their German site, that they have now signed up for French to be developed for them as well.

For more information on BABEL Multilingual, please visit us at www.babelmultilingual.com, or have a look around at www.ehotelworks.com.

The BABEL Multilingual team.

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The Arch Hotel in London now speaks fluent German

We are delighted to announce that eHotelworks have now created a truly exciting opportunity for one of its newest hotel clients, The Arch Hotel in London.

The Arch Hotel London .de

The Arch Hotel now speaks very fluent German, and can be found in Germany

The Arch is no ordinary hotel. 88 wonderful rooms, excellent public spaces and meeting rooms, and a genuinely impressive record of looking after guests. With the property being open for just over a year now, the Trip Advisor reviews are placing it firmly on the top of London’s elite hotels.

Earlier this year, the Arch joined eHotelworks in being part of BABEL Multilingual, a revolutionary opportunity for a select list of hotels to compete with online travel agencies for reservations from abroad coming directly to their own website.

Yannis Anastasakis, eHotelworks’ CEO, commenting on this opportunity said:

Unlike every other translation that you see hotels undertake, this property had the chance to get its first international language created through our BABEL Multilingual solution. That definitely means no ordinary translations! Using Oban Multilingual‘s extensive experience in cross-country on-line traffic and in creating content and designs that are both search engine and culturally optimised, TheArchLondon.de is enjoying a locally-focused presence in Germany, and is already well on its way in getting significant international exposure for the hotel.

Through the Babel Multilingual product, the Arch had its current official website re-built – rather than translated. Respecting the look and feel of the original pages, the content of the English pages was re-created from scratch to match the terms that German people use when searching online.

The end result is that the new website was made to be search engine friendly – which brings more visitors – but also consistent with the online habits of German visitors. With the right kind of promotion in Google.de, the Arch will have a great opportunity to compete directly with the likes of Hotels.de, and LastMinute.de – who so far had very little online competition from independent hotels for cross-country traffic.”

The Arch Hotel London's German Website

Possibly the most exciting element of the Babel Multilingual product, is that hotels receive the service of their international page re-construction without any up-front costs.

Uniquely, eHotelworks offers the entire range of content and url research, website hosting, website re-construction, cultural optimisation and localisation on a Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) basis. Hotels are charged a commission on incremental reservations only when the international websites have generated reservations for the hotels.

To find out more about potentially getting your hotel’s website re-constructed without up-front costs, you can contact us here.

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multilingual, multicultural and localised marketing

The argument for multilingual search engine optimisation expands well beyond the obvious benefits of having a website in more than one languages. Being able to be seen, understood and – if you do things properly – be booked in the language of your customers’ choice will give you a solid, and long-term advantage over your competition. It will also give you a very powerful tool to segment your audiences, which in turn will enable you to target needs more accurately. The result? Many, many more bookings!

Multilingual search engine optimisation is the result – rather than the clear goal – of ensuring that your website can accommodated both guests and search engines in their

Multilingual Online Marketing

Multilingual doesn't necessarily mean multinational or localised. Getting your website (and your business) to the world takes so much more than just translations.

quest for content relevant to your needs. It is also one of these activities where doing things right once, will allow you to benefit in many ways and for a long time. And what is even better, because it isn’t just aimed at better listings in search engines, it will let you start seeing the benefits right away!

Introducing a multilingual element to your website, is the type of activity that will benefit your rankings; and even the most die-hard anti-optimisation executives in any organisation would find it very hard to argue against it. Running a hotel in a world where people will check out your website for better rates and information even if they book via Kuoni in Switzerland or TUI in Germany, means that you will inevitably have the attention of an international audience. Servicing them in their language is both doing the right thing for your customers (some cultures will be delighted even if they do speak English) and it is serving yours.

  • Re-building – not translating

Re-building, rather than translating your international multilingual website, is a point of unexpected importance. There are two reasons for this – one relating to your actual visitors, and the other to your electronic ones.

  • Too formal?

Translation companies (that are not going to be working only with hotel related customers) will invariably provide the most accurate translation possible. That doesn’t always work for international visitors. Strict translations often miss the underlying essence of the message – usually making the text look stuffy and formal. Effectively hotels are getting their message written in the formal version of the language, which although it is very correct – is usually not what the local visitor would expect.

It is still much better to have the language than no language at all, yet there are also search engine optimisation implications.

  • Mismatching search engine terms?

Here at eHotelworks we look at the local search terms used by consumers before building the text and content of your website. If you want to build your website in Russian you will need to know how Russians research your destination and hotel. Are they looking for a “country-side hotel” or a “hotel in the country”? The search terms make a huge difference in your visibility and are therefore a great guide on what you should mention first. This approach ensures you are offering what your customers are looking for, when you know you have the right product.

  • Culturally unacceptable?

On top of the linguistic barrier reasons, there is such a thing as different visual expectations from customers, depending where they live. If you take Expedia as an example, www.expedia.com is somewhat different to www.expedia.co.uk, and – as you might expected – even more different to www.expedia.it.

The Italian vs. the UK and US versions are a clear example of the point of cultural optimisation on a web-page. The same company – and one that is very good at what it does – is giving different visual messages to different cultures. Italians react differently than Britons, and even more differently than the Chinese (who – incidentally – like websites that you and I would consider cluttered). Expedia has reached these conclusions when they monitored the behaviour of each audience and identified the differences. They then used different visual messages to attract conversions.

Active hotels (www.activehotels.com) is highlighting this point well. If you speak to any American, they will all tell you how dreadful the site looks to them as a first impression. Unlike Expedia, who are using their US and UK versions for conveying different actual messages rather than significantly different visual structures, Active is presenting us with what will initially seem like a paradox. A very successful company that is actually disliked by the Americans – usually a vital segment to capture success in this arena…

The explanation comes from the focus of Active. They are not known at all in the States (the company is letting its parent operations of www.booking.com and www.priceline.com take the US bookings). Their concern is the UK.

One of the reasons of their success (there are many more) is that UK customers seem to associate a cheap looking website with cheap prices (something like walking in a pound shop on the high-street). They offer all the information and functionality you would want, but they are giving you the feeling of buying at great value. (Surprisingly the actually also do often offer better value in the UK than their global competitors, and that naturally helps.)

  • Where are you based?

Multilingual and multicultural also implies local. And “local” is the current big thing! Websites that are hosted in each country have higher chances of being found. This is based on empirical evidence more than anything else, but it seems to be correct – and more correct in some countries over others. Even your Google search engine offers the option for your country’s local results. Would we be reasonable to assume that this giant of giants would waste such prime real-estate represented by the space and position of this option, if it wasn’t critically important to their customers?

Locally hosted websites, in the local language, with a local URL and a familiar look and feel will place you in front of the eyes of the international traveller, who will also understand your message and will be left with no doubt that you care.

And as if this wasn’t enough, it will give you one more advantage – one of indisputable strength.

International versions of your website will allow you to target your marketing to each country!

Germans like breakfasts included in their stay. Most likely very unlike your own holiday experience if you are a Briton, this is the time that they like to spend together before they all start their day in your resort – so they will sit for long conversations around their breakfast table for the best part of the morning. You, as the resort owner or sales and marketing manager, would most likely want to offer them an inclusive breakfast deal.

At the same time, Britons are now bombarded with double-digit percentage discounts from companies that try to survive the economic downturn by stimulating transactions that will protect their cash-flow.

A multilingual website would allow you to offer different inclusions to your guests that “book now”. Despite the obvious difficulties that this would cause your operations if your booking engine can’t support different messages in each language (there are ways around it – but never really easy to manage) having a .de and .co.uk version of your website would allow you to package a similar discount as two different and respectively appealing offers. You are effectively customising you offer to what each group wants, communicating the value of your offering to your customers; in their language too. Philip Kotler could not be happier for you.

Multilingual websites which follow the rules of reconstruction, cultural optimisation, local hosting and multi-point targeting, mean you will be seen and booked more, because you are able to communicate and be understood better than your competition.

Yannis Anastasakis

eHotelworks

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