Common misunderstandings: Approaching translation in tourism promotion

As globalisation makes the world smaller, demand for translation grows higher. Tourism and translation are pretty inextricably tied, where one goes the other inevitably follows. It’s not, therefore, surprising that TPM (tourism promotional texts) are among the most translated materials of the last century.

What is surprising is that, despite the high demand and years of experience under translator belts, the work in this sector is so often met with criticism, accused of stripping content of its promotional power, even of its meaning.

Correct literal translation of text will only get you so far. More often than not, you are left with a deconstructed puzzle of words that fit together awkwardly, creating a not altogether clear idea of what the purpose of the text was in the first place.

This is why localisation techniques are crucial in any piece of cross-cultural translation, smoothing over those gaps to conveying (and sell) the bigger picture – whether that’s a bright white beach or a off-piste temple.

Knowing the right approach

Needless to say, this cultural translation is not a straightforward task, the process becomes one of transcreation, where the text is almost entirely taken apart and reconstructed.

Bridging the gaps between potential tourists and their potential hotspots through translation, involves constantly varying strategies to create text which is understood by and appropriate to the target culture.

It’s this latter objective that causes the most problems. A high level of care and attention regarding cultural expectation and interpretation is required in each translation. For this reason, 3 stylistic approaches have been developed, enabling translators to create persuasive promotional material for, and in, another language and culture.

Domesticating

If this were a holiday, it would be an all inclusive hotel resort with room service and maybe a pool. As exploration of new cultures go, this is the most detached. With domestication, the reader is made to feel at home; any sense of strangeness or unfamiliarity is minimised or blotted out by translating text into a style familiar to the reader’s native language.

In this way, the audience is completely catered for, the tone and linguistic features are localised and any cultural peculiarities from the original language of the text are stripped away. Potential tourists from highly contrasting cultural backgrounds are, therefore more likely to be enticed.

Foreignizing

This is a little more off the beaten track, immersing the audience more in the culture of the original text through inclusion of idiomatic expressions and quirks. Foreignisation brings the reader to the destination, forcing them to engage more and work harder than they would with a domesticated text.

Where possible, names of places and customs are preserved. If translating Chinese to English, for instance, terms like ‘Kung Fu’ or ‘dim-sum’ are used instead of ‘martial art’ or ‘traditional dishes’. Structurally as well, the translated text is kept true to the original cultural style and where a culture has strong feelings on a particular subject matter, these are less diluted.

Neutralizing

A more recent strategy, neutralisation a process relevant to both the aforementioned translating techniques. The Journal of Specialised Translation describes it as ‘the act and process of constantly modulating the translator’s own awareness of what is being translated to satisfy the reader’s needs’. This process focusing on generalising idiomatic expressions and colloquial language into something that can be easily understood and read by the target culture.

In her book Postcolonial Polysystems, Haidee Kruger uses the example of translating English into Afrikaan. The translated text used an  Afrikaan expression which translates literally to ‘safely back at home’ to replace the English ‘safe and sound’, neutralising the cultural difference.

The audience

Cultural themes and values are key to understanding what to appeal to and exploit when promoting tourism. These are recurrent themes in many international marketing models and something that translators have to be highly aware of.

Collectivism vs Individualism

Individualist cultures place value on independence and the rights of the individual. Strategies for marketing to these groups tends to revolve around choice and flexibility, handing over the reigns to the customer.

In terms of what this means for translation strategy, foreignisation is usually the most effective way of drawing in potential tourists. Emphasising cultural differences and the opportunity to experience the unfamiliar is a key selling point as these cultures prefer exploring for themselves.

Collectivist cultures are less willing to take risks and prefer to put their trust in external authority figures. Marketing here is usually a case of assertion, confidently and clearly presenting information around a given service or product. This reduces feelings of uncertainty and stresses the reader’s position as a valued customer, in a higher position of power.

Translation, therefore, is best kept domesticated. Explicit, easily understood information will not induce trepidation.

Low context vs high context

High context culture communication is shaped by implicit meanings, which assume a level of knowledge shared throughout the culture. A good example of this is China, where social order matters and roles are established and unspokenly understood.

In terms of translation, direct communication is seen as impolite and even threatening. Trust develops over longer periods of time and cannot be assumed. When translating tourist promotion, therefore it is important to use the correct tone, not to be overly friendly, demanding or obviously pressuring.

Low context cultures are much more happy to assume a relationship of trust. As a result their communication is much more straightforward and informal. America and Scandinavia both use very forthright style of communication, explaining messages explicitly rather than assuming a level of knowledge.

When translating tourism materials to target low context cultures, persuasive discourse should be much more open and friendly. If the message is too subtle they could be missed.

High power distance and low power distance

High Power Distance cultures accept their social hierarchy and distribution of power within their society. This power balance should be reflected in marketing strategies, the seller tends to have to assume a subservient role.

Translated tourist materials to target this group must be kept impassive and respectful.

Low Power Distance cultures are less comfortable with inequalities in power distribution. As a result, superiors are more accessible and marketing approaches are expected to regard each other as equals. Being quick to establish a relationship is, therefore, beneficial.

Text should be transcreated into an informal, friendly tone with the freedom to be assertive and openly persuasive.

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