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How to translate travel guides and maps

Among the many fields of translation, the tourism sector tests a translator’s versatility and expertise like no other. Texts produced for the tourist industry are often hybrids. They summarise useful information, implement various marketing techniques and exploit the irresistible charm of storytelling to attract potential customers.

Over the last twenty years, Europe has opened its borders, adopted a single currency and grown its tourist information network exponentially. As such, requests for translations into various European languages have grown dramatically, as has the demand for tourist translations to and from non-European languages.

But what are the main difficulties that come with translating travel guides? And how do you specialise in tourist translations?

Tourist translations: more complex than they first appear

Turist translation

Travel guides flow well, captivate their audience and are never boring. They are also very precise when it comes to providing technical information. In a word, they are perfect. As such, the challenges that come with translating travel guides involve being able to guarantee the same fluency and precision provided by the original author.

The reason for this high level of attention is the huge marketing potential of tourist texts. Incorrect tourism publications can negatively affect a country’s image, thereby changing the perception of its beauty, efficiency and safety on a global scale. Of course, travel guides, information brochures (such as those provided by hotels and restaurants) and multilingual websites intended for the tourism sector all vary greatly.

Websites, for example, need to contain a series of primary and secondary keywords to be considered relevant by search engines. Furthermore, the tone of a brochure should be fairly informal, while travel guides sometimes contain more specialised language (in order to describe food and wine traditions, or points of historical and artistic interest).

Translating travel guides is certainly the most complex task, but brochures and websites often present other difficulties that should by no means be underestimated.

What do you need to become a good translator in the tourism sector?

Becoming a good translator in the tourism sector is an exciting challenge, and one that requires an ability to adapt well to the tone of the text to be translated, while also successfully capturing its persuasive and evocative character. What’s more, it’s vital to pay the utmost attention to the linguistic register and to be very familiar with both the source and target cultures.

Translators must also have a genuine passion for history, geography, art, natural history and all the other subjects included in travel guides and texts.

Excellent communication skills and knowledge of the main marketing techniques can also help translators a great deal. Last but not least, having personal travel experience allows for a better understanding of a translated travel guide’s strengths and weaknesses.

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