In September, tourism body VisitBritain unveiled the next phase of its on-going multi-million pound marketing campaign to entice overseas holidaymakers to choose the UK as their next destination.

Summer may be over but it will be a long time before our memories of the spectacular opening ceremony of the Olympics – brilliantly directed by Danny Boyle – start to fade. It was a show seen across the globe, watched by nearly 27 million people. It was also a display that really showcased the best of British – so it’s no surprise VisitBritain is keen to capitalise on its popularity by ensuring the UK stays firmly in the minds of tourists.

The tourism body’s latest image campaign is running in 14 cities in nine countries, reaching more than 90 million people in total – all of whom could be influenced to pick Britain as the base for their next getaway. During the first six months of 2012, a record 5.6 million tourists visited the UK – but VisitBritain believes this could rise to 40 million a year by 2020.

Should this goal be achieved, translation and interpreting skills will become among the most vital in our tourism industry.

What’s translation spelt backwards?

Under VisitBritain’s promotional campaign, tourists are being encouraged to come here to do their Christmas shopping or pick up some bargains in the January sales. As the UK (and London in particular) is a famed paradise for shoppers, it’s of little surprise the tourism agency is keen to promote this.

In order to ensure they take full advantage of this influx of visitors, shop owners could prepare by getting their own promotional materials translated, along with their in-store signs. In large shopping malls, this can be vital as it allows visitors to use signs written in their mother tongue to navigate their way around.

However, even if they have the best of intentions, retailers who cut corners when it comes to translation could wind up making an impression for all the wrong reasons. A poorly-translated sign could make its owner a laughing stock – or even cause offence.

In July, just as London was counting down the final hours until the Olympics, its largest shopping centre unveiled some new Arabic signs. Unfortunately, if the signs at Westfield in Stratford were translated back into English, anyone reading them would have been greeted with: N O D N O L O T E M O C L E W. Not only did the message ‘Welcome to London’ read backwards, but none of the letters were joined together, making it even more incomprehensible. Yet this mistake was not an isolated incident, as earlier in the summer Arabic security posters due to be displayed at major London train stations to warn people not to leave their belongings unattended were found to be gibberish.

How to get it right


If there’s one place that knows how important translation is to tourism, it’s Las Vegas. The US city is a firm favourite with American holidaymakers, but it is becoming increasingly popular among visitors from abroad.

Local publication Vegas Inc notes that 27 percent of the city’s tourism revenue is generated by those from overseas. To cater to this demographic, Vegas’ service and accommodation providers have invested in translation services, with MGM Resorts International translating its website into Korean and Portuguese this year. This adds to the French, Japanese, German, Italian, Spanish and two forms of Chinese versions it has already produced.

Lou Ruggo, MGM Resorts’ vice-president of internet operations, explains that as well as being able to read the basic information about their hotel in their mother tongue or book a room, foreign users can also find out about other popular tourist attractions nearby. This is because MGM Resorts has not only translated the language on its site, but also tailored the content to fit the reader.

Most importantly, the company has taken steps to ensure that their message makes sense in a different language and doesn’t come out as gobbledygook. “You want someone who knows the market and knows the culture so they can properly translate and convey the message. I highly recommend using a real translator over a machine. Automated translation systems are good for some things, but for broad, large-scale translation work, it’s good to use the company,” Mr Ruggo tells the publication.

There are so many ways to cater to tourists who do not speak the native language of the country they are visiting, with Vegas Inc detailing ideas like having staff wear name tags displaying what languages they speak, or installing kiosks where holidaymakers can access digital and audio content in their mother tongue.

It’s a great time to be a translator


One thing’s for sure – it’s never been a better time to work as either a translator or interpreter. As the UK continues to pump money into its tourism campaigns and more people flock here from abroad, the role of the linguist will become indispensable.

Just this week Paramount Pictures – the studio behind Indiana Jones, The Godfather and Transformers – announced it plans to build a huge theme park in Kent that will rival Disneyland Paris in terms of tourism potential. The proposed Paramount Pictures park will be built on an 872-acre brownfield site and will feature the largest indoor water park in Europe, along with rides, music venues, theatres, restaurants and hotels. It will also create 27,000 jobs – no doubt including many for interpreters and translators.

We think the Olympics was just the beginning of the Great British holiday revival and we’re excited to see what the future holds. What we’re sure of, though, is that if you’re a linguist, you’ll be right at the heart of it.

How vital do you think translation is to our tourism industry?