Machine translation: Can it be used to translate travel industry content?

by Manuel Herranz
There have been strong opinions for and against machine Translation over the last few years. Whilst the general public has become a keen user of free online services, professional translators have poured bitter criticisms against the technology. Understandably, because the language industry is a small industry compared with other sectors where automation took place years ago (automotive industry, printing, telecommunications, to name a few). The Internet and in general any industry based on electronic communications has added to the increase in demand for multilingual websites, which means more translation for eCommerce sites and website translations. There are many supporters of machine translation technology because of the many advantages and problems it has solved where a translator could not be at hand and human translation was not an option. See the video celebrating Google Translate’s 10 years. But it has also gained something of a bad press, particularly because the various free online translators (and I stress the free) on the web. If you read our articles in this blog often enough, you know by now that Pangeanic is a developer of a machine translation platform. We build engines for particular applications and clients. Our research team and collaboration over the last 8 years with Valencia’s Polytechnic, the Computer Science Institute in Valencia, the EU’s Expert Project and Spain’s Center for Technological Innovation (CDTI) has borne fruit in our Pangea version 3: an improved, state-of-the-art platform that not only automates the engine training and retraining process, but it also incorporates search engine capabilities in a hybrid translation memory + machine translation approach. Even so, we advise companies to be cautious when applying machine translation solutions as if it was all as easy as copying and pasting into a Google Translate panel. Free comes at a cost, and sometimes a very expensive cost.

Read more: Google is 10 years old

Some free solutions, like Google Translate can produce reasonable results in certain language combinations and mostly with English as the source or target language, some content types and translation between some languages simply will not lend itself to machine translation under any circumstance. Japanese and English is a language combination known to produce unintelligible results. We learnt a lot from our 2-year collaboration with Toshiba. Nevertheless, it is important to make a distinction between these free “translate any language” online tools and a custom-built enterprise machine translation solution.

The risk of no post-editing in travel sector translations

“Safety is important for us here at Novabikes” becomes “Safety above everything is important for Novabikes United States” – Google believes “us” is meant as “U.S.”

In this case, industry specific content and very often the client’s own terminology is used to build a tool for a specific purpose. Engines learn how the client (user) wants to translate and MT engines are trained with large quantities of language data. In other cases, hybrid approaches ensure further customization with specific client or language rules and translation memories.

Benefits of enterprise-level machine translation solutions

Nowadays, businesses can use machine translation for a wide range of purposes, including:

  • translating online help,
  • translating knowledge bases,
  • data collection,
  • customer services (multilingual chat systems),
  • emails in a different language to understand what a potential client is asking for (lead generation) – although articulating a marketing message with machine translation is another matter,
  • internal communications among multilingual staff (read more about how IBM used feedback from its own staff to improve its own MT solution),
  • and, in general, low value content for which there was no translation budget in the past.

Under the right conditions and processes, with a limited level of human input, MT can now deliver high quality translation almost in real time with a more than acceptable quality, akin to that of human translators. Companies trading internationally can considerably improve their translation productivity and language reach and, through it, their operations. A typical machine translation software like PangeaMT can turn around several tens of thousands of words per hour for immediate use or for human post-editors for light or heavy post-editing. Machine translation is now an option for content which previously was considered to have no ROI, for which there was never any budget or was overlooked because of time constraints.

Pangeanic’s Use Case: Translation services for the hospitality and tourism sector Ona Hotel Group

Translate travel industry content – The Machine Translation challenge

But are machine translation technologies good for the travel sector? The travel industry can throw up one hurdle after another from a translator’s point of view. However, scalability and response times are by far the number one challenge. Let’s take Booking.com as an example. They have well over half a million hotels in their inventory. Even with a short 50-word review on each (and most hotels have several reviews), we would be looking at over 27 million words of content in several languages. With several reviews per hotel and surely over time, this very conservative figure can double every year. Does it make sense for booking.com to use human translation services for all this content? Surely translation into any language of a exquisite New Year’s hotel menu is not what we have in mind when we think of machine translation in the travel industry. We know only too well at Pangeanic. Never publish any brand-level document that has to face the public and convey the idea of professionalism and service as raw MT output. Nevertheless, there are countless other documents which are prone for machine translation. They are not so client-facing or, again, are low-value because of they are ephemeral content. Common Sense Advisory is a Boston-based research center for the translation industry.  If you follow our blog, you are probably familiar with their “Can’t read Won’t buy” report which says that 88% of people are more likely to make a purchase if the information they see on the web is in their own language. In Europe, the EU published a report with similar conclusions: Europeans choose websites in their mother tongue and most do not feel comfortable making a purchasing decision in other language but their own. For many, understanding well what they were about to buy was more important than price. Positive or negative comments about a hotel or establishment have a deeper in a person’s native tongue. They boost engagement, even if the translation is not perfect. It is one of the mantras of selling: buyers are put off when they feel the seller has more information than them during the sales process. When the seller provides information and knowledge in order to bring the buyer to an equal footing, buyers are more likely to buy because they handle the same information or even more than the company they are buying from. Transparency is key, and machine translation is key in providing such information many times: it is immediate and it is neutral, as it is the product of an algorithm in a translation software. Thus, machine translation services enable the travel industry to reach new potential clients anywhere at a fraction of a cost of setting up a representative office. Also, the web centralizes and scales up their business. User generated content can serve the purpose of regular updates, which linked to a clever keyword strategy can bring several benefits, traffic and conversions. It is hardly news that around 80% of tourists and business travelers weigh reviews by fellow travelers before making a booking decision. And as machine translation can only get better with new techniques (neural networks or deep learning), MT is here to stay and to become embedded in all travel companies’ websites.

But… Shouldn’t all my multilingual web content have the highest translation quality?

No, not really. The traditional, client-facing publications that convey the image of your company as a brand, for sure.  This includes marketing brochures, hotel descriptions, reports, menus, magazines and newsletters, promotional material, in-flight entertainment, , user generated reviews, and of course social media posts. But user-generated content is mostly important as feedback and as collateral information to other users. Some may be very relevant, the majority of users’ comment, may not. And this is the reason why machine translation solutions go hand in hand with human post-editing solutions. It depends on the final desired quality expectation. Light post-editing will make the content fairly acceptable to humans but never the level of human, professional translation services. Full or heavy post-editing expects a deep revision in order to make the document indistinguishable from what would have been a human translation. This requires, often, the work of a first post-editor and a final proofreader. Heavy post-editing is ideal for content like resort and hotel descriptions, etc.

The Pangeanic difference

Here at Pangeanic, we appreciate that it’s vital for travel industry insiders to be able to translate languages fast and in an uncomplicated way. That is why our international hubs and online translation management platform cover the translation needs internationally across a variety of media channels and to cater to the needs of travelers at every point in the buyer journey. We offer cutting-edge translation technology and in-country linguists who can cover more than 150 languages, from Portuguese to Russian in Europe, from Japanese to Gujarati, Pashto and Indonesian in Asian. Our Chinese office can cover both Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Taiwanese. As one of the best US translation companies, with a UK translation company, and offices in Spain, Japan and China, Pangeanic specializes in localizing marketing material, hospitality and  hotel websites, ecommerce, travel apps, video, travel reviews and much more, so give us a call or email us today to find out what we could do for you. – See more at “Translations for the tourism industry

Next time you think languages, think Pangeanic
Translation Services, Translation Technologies, Machine Translation


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