Multilingualism means business. The more foreign language skills are availalble to a company, the better it will be prepared to meet customers’ needs. In our globalized world, multilingualism is key and English is no longer enough. In this sense, companies are seeking to provide a better service by speaking other languages.
This phenomenon is even more important when it comes to the hospitality sector, as we found in our study about Language Needs in Tourism Enterprises in Pallars Sobirà, Catalonia (Cañas & Pérez, 2014). Our research focused on the linguistic strategies that tourism enterprises based in the region of Pallars Sobirà (Catalonia, Spain) follow in order to improve their services.
Globalization does not only occur in mass market destinations. It can also be perceived on a smaller scale in countries and regions off the beaten track. How can the owner of a small cottage in a rural area be linguistically prepared for the arrival of foreign tourists from distant countries? Language strategy is the answer.
In our research, we found that an overwhelming 78% of the participating companies are aware of the importance of multilingualism. This is not surprising as nowadays, the visitors to Pallars Sobirà are very diverse: in addition to domestic tourists from Spain, visitors include French, British, Israeli and Russians. According to statistics from the Pallars Sobirà Tourist Information Office Network, the region received nearly 13% international tourists in 2013.
Most tourists visit the region due to white-water rafting competitions. The region is famous for championships such as the Freestyle Spanish Cup or the Noguera Pallaresa International Rally.
In the hospitality industry, there is a general awareness of the scarcity of language skills and most of the companies do not at present have any language strategy – despite their high levels of awareness that such a strategy would be desirable, as mentioned above.
On the other hand, companies with an existing foreign language policy also admitted that they still need more foreign language training. Owners and managers reported that they had come across difficulties with foreign tourists due to this fact and, as a result, many believed they had lost business opportunities.
Regarding the promotional strategy, many companies revealed that their website is already displayed in foreign languages (English, French and German are the most common ones).
Although many companies have their website and promotional information adapted to foreign clients, they need to make an effort in terms of accuracy and correctness. Enterprises must present their best image and in order to have effective content authors need to know how to write for the web, and how to manage the process of text revision, validation and publication.
Accuracy was also an issue with the paper-based information displayed at the hotels, hostels or inns. Often, this was not user-friendly for foreign tourists, except for those companies in which the restaurant menu is provided in English (and even in Hebrew in some cases).
Companies such as the ones participating in our study need to develop their own language management strategy by selecting from a range of various language measures. How to start? Using local agents who speak the target language can be the first step in opening up a new and unknown market. Additionally, it is important that regional institutions invest in the implementation of policies focusing on language training and facilitate recruitment. An example can be found in the Generalitat de Catalunya Strategic Tourism Plan for Catalonia 2013-2016 in which training in language skills is described as one key component within the excellence programme.
Cañas, J. & Pérez, L. (2014). Language Needs in Tourism Enterprises in Pallars Sobirà, Catalonia. Creació i comercialització de productes turístics. Quaderns de recerca Escola Universitària Formatic Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain.