Why Guest Acquisition Platform SiteMinder Wants to Know Their Translators

Matthias Borngrebe-SiteMinder

Hotel guest acquisition platform SiteMinder logged more than 87 million bookings in 2018 and generated over USD 28bn in revenue for the 30,000 hotels they work with, the company’s Head of Localization, Matthias Borngrebe, told Slator.

He said SiteMinder is credited with pioneering Software as a Service for hotels, and develops solutions for hoteliers to manage how they market and sell their rooms online using a single platform. In a nutshell, they connect their customers to travellers from all around the world via technology.

Headquartered in Sydney with offices in London, Galway, Dallas, Bangkok, and Cape Town, SiteMinder has a localization team based in London and Sydney to support the company’s global presence. According to Borngrebe, they translate about one million words each year, mainly into French, German, Italian, European-Spanish, European-Portuguese, as well as into Indonesian and Thai on a regular basis.

Another target market is South America, for which they translate content into Brazilian-Portuguese and Mexican-Spanish. Certain customer-facing features of their products are, however, available in up to 20 languages, “to deliver on the promise of providing a user experience that’s smart and simple,” Borngrebe said.

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At SiteMinder, the localization team is part of the Marketing Department, which is also the team’s primary stakeholder. Other important stakeholders are Product, Brand Communications and PR, Customer Success, Onboarding, and Human Resources.

If one were to drill down into the team’s scope of work, it would consist of Marketing assets (website copy, email campaigns, press releases, feature articles, a blog, social media posts, videos, webinars, and e-books); Product (all user interfaces, apps, extranets, and product communications); and Customer Success (customer help articles and email templates).

Borngrebe describes his team as an internal translation agency and, as its head, his main responsibility is to ensure the delivery of high-quality localization solutions to a vast range of internal stakeholders within a short turnaround time. “I manage the localization budget and am focused on always improving our processes and quality so we can maintain speed-to-market,” he said.

No “Anonymous” Translators

The SiteMinder localization team comprises Borngrebe and two localization specialists, with one focusing on Italian and the other, Portuguese. To provide support for other languages, Borngrebe employs known and trusted freelancers.

“I love these situations when you spend half an hour discussing the best possible translation for a specific term or sentence.”

“We work with a regular pool of around 15 external translators and copywriters. We usually work on many different projects and tasks simultaneously in different languages. That requires a lot of coordination, quality assessment, and constant improvement of processes,” Borngrebe said, adding that they use Smartling as a translation productivity tool, Asana for project management, and Slack to communicate within the team and with freelancers.

Asked to describe their outsourcing approach, Borngrebe said that, although they do use a combination of internal and external talents, they “don’t work much with ‘anonymous’ translators from agencies. Working directly with freelance translators makes it easier for us to ensure quality.”

SiteMinder’s freelance translators, according to Borngrebe, “know our products, expectations, and tone of voice very well. Some of them work for us almost every day.”

Their external translators are encouraged to always reach out to the in-house team as the dialog helps boost quality. “I love these situations when you spend half an hour discussing the best possible translation for a specific term or sentence,” Borngrebe said.

As to how he sources external linguists, he singled out ProZ and LinkedIn; although they do still work with language service providers. “We make exceptions and work with agencies when it comes to very specific translations, such as legal translations,” he said.

Another exception: the translation of the company’s customer help articles into five languages. Estimating the translation volume of the project to be 150,000 words, Borngrebe said, “We had been looking into various providers and decided to trial with Unbabel, which provides a combination of neural machine translation (NMT) and human editing.”

“For other projects, I cannot currently see how NMT could help us.”

He said the customer help articles are, essentially, step-by-step guides that explain to customers how to use SiteMinder’s products, and a number of the articles are quite technical.

Many terms in the articles correspond to specific product terms, “so we had to provide a very accurate glossary to set up the ‘machine’. The better the material we feed the machine, the better the translations will be,” he explained, adding that “for other projects, I cannot currently see how NMT could help us.”

“What other hospitality providers do when it comes to MT is impressive, especially for customer help translations and chatbots,” he said. However, apart from the customer help translation project, SiteMinder’s volumes and number of language pairs are “not at that level where NMT would be worth it to look into.”

“We do, of course, use a translation memory (Smartling),” Borngrebe said, “but due to the variety of our work, we don’t have that many repetitions in our translations, so automation isn’t really an option.”

More Transcreation, Please

Matthias Borngrebe joined SiteMinder in June 2018. He previously worked at Booking.com as Translations Team Lead for several Nordic languages prior to SiteMinder. A native German, he began his career as a German copywriter. Then, after living in Copenhagen for 10 years, he learned to speak Danish and understand Norwegian and Swedish. He also speaks English and “a bit of French.”

“I am constantly encouraging all our translators to transcreate rather than translate…and deliver the message in their own words.”

His first six months at SiteMinder were spent “building a well-functioning localization team and a stable pool of freelance translators. We are now working on refining our localization approach. In most cases, we don’t actually need translations but truly localized copy.”

Borngrebe said the customer should never feel that they are reading a translation regardless of where they are on their journey. “I am constantly encouraging all our translators to transcreate rather than translate. I want them to transfer the meaning from the English copy into their language and deliver the message in their own words,” he said.

Increasingly, they are looking at writing original copy in the local language of a specific market, for a particular purpose — say, blog posts or email campaigns. Borngrebe noted how, in marketing, “it can make a huge difference if you work with translations or copy that has specifically been created for a certain market. It requires more effort and you have to provide very clear instructions to copywriters, but I have seen very positive results.”

SiteMinder London
SiteMinder’s London office

All Languages Are Equally Important

SiteMinder currently services hotels in 160 countries around the world. Aside from the usual obstacles that come with translating English into other languages (e.g., character limits, tone, etc.), Borngrebe said one of their biggest challenges is that some of their applications “are quite technical, and we have to explain in simple ways through our translations what our platform solution can do for you and how it works — no matter if you are a small hotel in Italy or a big chain in France, if you work in the reception or in the management of a property.”

Borngrebe regards the entire localization industry to still be in its early stages. He pointed out that “many people outside the industry still don’t know what ‘localization’ stands for, and those who know it often take it as a synonym for translation.”

He added, “I believe we will see an increasing demand for transcreation or even original copy written in local languages. Especially in very competitive industries, such as travel and tourism, you will need to stand out by providing a true local experience to your customers — and that is often not the case if you simply transfer your brand, your website, or product from English into other languages.”

Looking back over SiteMinder’s journey, which began in Australia, growing across different regions and winning customers in markets “where English is not the first language, nor the second either sometimes,” Borngrebe said they had to develop marketing campaigns and collaterals in other languages to be relevant to more hoteliers.

“In Europe, the first one was Spanish because it was the fastest growing, non-English speaking market in the region. But now, we are following a path where all languages are equally important,” he said.

Featured image: Matthias Borngrebe, Head of Localization, SiteMinder