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Overcoming international language barriers

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With an increase in international tourism comes additional challenges overcoming language barriers. Click explores how you can ensure communications run smoothly

Last year, international tourist arrivals grew to 1.4 billion across the globe (two years ahead of forecasts), according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation. With an increasing number of people travelling abroad, having a plan in place to overcome linguistic complexities is crucial. From hiring bilingual staff to investing in technology that can help facilitate seamless interactions, catering to different languages can open doors to new markets and help prevent customer service issues.

Starting the conversation

Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace is one way to facilitate mutual comprehension, with bilingual staff also helping to increase global reach. “We mostly rely on the multitude of different cultures represented by our hotel staff, who represent more than 36 different countries,” says Eduardo Fernandez, General Manager of Sonesta Fort Lauderdale Beach. “If one particular department has an issue or needs to address a specific situation, the first thing we do is see who from our team can speak the needed native language.

“Bilingual staff members are extremely important, particularly based on the geographical destination. Overall, every hotel or destination has a different customer profile. For us, a good portion of our visitors speak Spanish. By ensuring we have a strong Spanish-speaking staff, we effectively solve a large portion of any potential communication barriers.

“In terms of hiring, you have to find the right balance,” Fernandez continues. “We want to hire bilingual employees, but on occasion, due to the very low unemployment rate in this market, it can be challenging to identify candidates that have the right profile and speak more than one language. Within our senior staff, we actually have several trilingual speakers who have proven to be a great asset.”

Innovative solutions

Technology undoubtedly plays a huge role in tackling language barriers. From multilingual websites to translation devices, machine-based innovations are making it easier than ever to understand your guests.

One such solution is Angie, a guest-room assistant that offers interactions in multiple languages to simplify international travel and to meet global demand for voice technology. “Language barriers are an inherent challenge in the hospitality industry, due to the nature of international travel. It is virtually impossible for a hotel to offer human interaction in the native and/or preferred language of every potential guest,” says Ted Helvey, CEO of Angie. “However, AI technology like that used in the Angie platform offers an effective way to overcome these language barriers faced by properties in their everyday interaction with guests during their stay. By offering a choice of languages, Angie essentially acts as a de facto interpreter for communication guest needs and requests.

Crowd crossing the street
Last year, international tourism arrivals grew to 1.4 billion across the globe. Photo: credit to Jacek Dylag, Unsplash


“Since language is the most basic form of human communication, the ability to interact in the guest’s chosen language is key to guest satisfaction which, in turn, creates loyalty, repeat business and added revenue opportunities,” Helvey continues. “Because Angie offers an array of functionality, acting as a 24/7 guest-room assistant, it also creates staff cost efficiencies that contribute to a quick ROI.”

Live chat tools are also helping potential guests to strike up a conversation with properties. Jeeves.Plus is a multilingual customer service platform that can accept messages via SMS or Facebook Messenger, empowering hotel staff to communicate with guests in over 104 languages.

“As an example, if a guest simply texts a request in Mandarin to Jeeves.Plus, the message is automatically translated into English and presented to Guest Services via a cloud-based customer service platform,” says David Hayes, Founder of Jeeves.Plus. “Guest services then reply in English and the text is automatically retranslated back to Mandarin and delivered to their mobile phone.

“If you can conveniently communicate with guests in their language and on their device, the wow factor is exponential,” he continues. “The more they engage, the more you understand the guest and their requirements, the more you will service them better. It also leads to greater spend within the hotel and encourages returning stays.”


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Hero image: credit to Angie
  • With an increasing number of people travelling abroad, having a plan in place to overcome language barriers is crucial
  • Catering to different languages can open doors to new markets and help prevent customer service issues
  • Hiring bilingual staff and investing in translation technology can help facilitate seamless communication