Airbnb “human translated” over 100 million words in 2019. According to Salvo Giammarresi, Head of Localization at the home-rental giant, making up this huge volume are products, marketing, help center, and communications.
In addition, Airbnb processes millions of words in user generated content. “The bulk of Airbnb’s user generated content consists of descriptions of homes and experiences written by hosts. A smaller volume of user generated content consists of reviews written by guests,” Giammarresi told Slator.
He said user generated content is always initially presented in the language of a host or guest, although some users write in more than one language within a single home or experience description. Reviews are, likewise, published in the language used by the guest. Therefore, “to address localization of this content, Airbnb offers a ‘translate’ button, which automatically translates the user generated content through a third-party machine translation solution.”
Last fall, the company announced that it was doubling the amount of languages in which users could engage with Airbnb, bringing the total number to 62. (Airbnb had previously added two languages earlier in the year.) Giammarresi said, “Of all the languages we launched in 2019, Arabic has seen tremendous growth percentage-wise.”
Even as additional languages are driven in partnership with key internal stakeholders, it was the Localization team at Airbnb that led “the ideation, planning, and execution of the 2019 language expansion program,” Giammarresi said, adding that Localization sits within the company’s Growth & Traffic organization. The main reason, “because Localization is a business growth driver and enabler.”
Giammarresi recalled that he “first proposed the language expansion program to Airbnb’s top leadership. Once approved, I ensured we had proper funding and my team and I put together a cross-functional plan. After that, it was a matter of hard work, executing on many fronts both internally and in partnership with our vendor.”
“Our multi-language vendor handles all content translation, transcreation and cultural adaptation. Our QA vendor handles functional, linguistic and internationalization testing”
He added, “Once the program started, we held weekly status meetings and were tasked with daily stakeholder management and solving a never-ending series of blockers and escalations, until we crossed the finish line for a successful launch.”
As to what triggered the program, he said it was the desire to expand Airbnb’s global audience and business, surpass all other companies in the Travel and Hospitality sector in terms of number of supported languages, and provide access to Airbnb for more than a billion additional native speakers.
Elevating Localization Via a Hybrid Model
Giammarresi said Airbnb’s is a “hybrid localization model that relies on internal localization experts, one multi-language translation vendor, and one localization QA vendor.”
Internal localization resources are focused on product or program management; that is, advising and coordinating with all product teams, as well as executing design and localizability reviews.
Language management, too, is done internally. This includes gatekeeping Airbnb’s voice, tone, style, and glossary, and working with in-country stakeholders in key markets.
Proper localization, according to Salvo Giammarresi, “powers belonging; is a business growth driver; helps and supports stakeholders; enables more scalable products; elevates Airbnb’s Design, Engineering, and Operations”
Giammarresi’s team is also responsible for internationalization engineering: internal content translation pipeline, localization engineering and tech integrations, and vendor management.
“Our multi-language vendor [Translated] handles all content translation, transcreation, and cultural adaptation. Our QA vendor handles functional, linguistic, and internationalization testing,” Giammarresi said.
“We believe that a single multi-language translation vendor plus a single localization QA vendor strategy allows Airbnb to sustain our high-paced continuous product release cycles while keeping a high bar on quality,” he concluded.