The growing language gap between travel and tourism websites

The travel industry has long been at the forefront of web globalization. Take Booking.com, with support for 41 languages, or Uber, with support for 36 languages, or KLM, with support for 32 languages.
And yet, if you wish to research destinations online, tourism websites are not nearly so globally friendly. While the leading travel websites support an average of 30 languages, the top 10 tourism websites support an average of just 12 languages.
Germany, the destination website that emerged number one overall, leads the category with support for 24 languages. But most other destination websites support far fewer, even many of the sites in the top ten list.

The Top 10 Global Tourism Websites

  1. Germany
  2. France
  3. Spain
  4. Paris
  5. Scotland
  6. Sydney
  7. Dubai
  8. Holland
  9. Singapore
  10. Western Australia

Language is the most evident sign of a localized website, but it is just one area in which tourism websites need improvement. The  new report Destination: Marketing carefully documents the many different types of navigation strategies used by tourism websites and provides best practices that all websites should adopt. It also takes a close look at localized content, social media, and support for mobile users (also a weak point).

I understand that the organizations that manage destination websites are not exactly flush with cash these days. Brand USA is fighting for its budget as I write this. Yet this is precisely the time to make the case for the value of multilingual destination websites.
Consider this: The travel and tourism industry is growing at a faster pace than the global economy and by 2017 is projected to account for 1 of 9 jobs on this planet. Tourism websites play an essential role in attracting travelers and more than half of these travelers do not speak English. The countries, regions and cities that do invest in a multilingual future are going to be best positioned to benefit from it.
To learn more about the report, click here.

Facebook hits German competitors

StudiVZ in Poland

If you’ve read this blog recently, you are aware of John’s reports on Facebook’s efforts to translate its Website into German and other European languages. I am a keen observer of the “kraut-sourcing” efforts. However, in Germany Facebook faces an entrenched competitor: “StudiVZ”.

StudiVZ is a social networking platform, very similar to Facebook. In contrast to Facebook, the positioning and the target group is extremely focused (for example, during signup you have to explicitly provide your high school or university). There are other affiliated networks like “SchülerVZ” specifically targeting younger people and pupils (until they are “old enough” to join StudiVZ).

In the past StudiVZ has tried to expand into other countries, too, and translated the Website into French, Spanish, Italian and Polish. But despite its efforts and except for Poland, the results were poor: the number of users were well below expectations. This led to a reorganisation of the staff, e.g. reduced teams which operate independently in each country. And now StudiVZ announced that it will “hibernate” its international expansion and instead it will focus its efforts in a renewed and improved software architecture.

For me this a clear move to counter Facebook’s advance in Europe, and especially Germany. Let’s see how the opponents stack up:

  • Facebook has an estimated user base of 60 million users worldwide and app. 600.000 in Germany. StudiVZ has app. 4,8 million users and SchülerVZ app. 2,7 millions. Numbers are currently increasing sharply. Facebook 0 : StudiVZ 1
  • StudiVZ is extremely focused in marketing its platform to students and teenagers. Therefore the numbers above show a deep market penetration in this growing group. Facebook 0 : StudiVZ 2
  • Facebook has a lot of venture capital backing, while StudiVZ has the backing of only the German publishing group Holzbrinck. Facebook 1 : StudiVZ 2
  • StudiVZ is trailing Facebook in technology and needs to modernize its software architecture. Right now StudiVZ is a “closed shop” and does not yet allow independent developers in its ecological niche. And the renewed technology might take some time to completely roll out. Facebook 2 : StudiVZ 2
  • StudiVZ has translated its Website into several languages and can exploit this language base in the future. Facebook has a very large and expanding global user base. Shortly they will have the same language capabilities. Facebook 3 : StudiVZ 3.

Right now I cannot see a clear winner here in Germany, but I see some small advantages for Facebook. But winning over the users from StudiVZ will be difficult and will consume time and money. Maybe a takeover would do the trick.

Moreover, the global reach of users is crucial for potential partners, e.g. for content providers or technological partners. I am referring here to the rumours of a Nokia+Facebook deal. I reckon the combination of mobile Web and global social networking will be one of the most interesting developments in the near future.

But don’t forget Orkut and Android, Google’s social platform and mobile technology… Ah, what interesting times we live in!

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Marketing opportunities in the German blogosphere

Last week I gave a presentation about international Websites and how to position your offering in the Web 2.0 world. One of the questions that came up was: how many blogs are out there? And does it make sense to sponsor blogs or advertise on them?

Estimating the size of the German blogosphere

Intuitively, I was sure for the U.S., Japan and China, but I was not so sure about Germany. So I tried to find out the size of the German blogossphere and came with the following contradictory numbers:

  • Blogcensus is an effort to count all of the active German blogs and relies on manual inspection. Their estimate is app. 115.000 active blogs (an active blog means at least a post per month). I think this is way too low.
  • The German magazine Focus claims to have counted app. 1.1 million German blogs. But I think this is way too high.
  • Technorati’s “State of the Blogosphere” counted 50 millions blogs in 2006 and claims that app. 1% of blog posts were in German. With the bold assumption that the blogging frequency is the same globally, this would result in app. 500.000 blogs in German. This seems to me to be a more realistic estimate (and in line with other guestimates of other sources).

Going forward with Technorati’s numbers let’s compare the relative sizes of the blogospheres in the following countries:

Size of blogospheres

Although the numbers are from 2006, I believe that the relative comparison between the different blogospheres are still true, nevertheless.

With the assumption that app. 10% of the internet users are aware of blogs and potentially read them, the relationship of writers to readers is skewed in the German blogosphere: there are many more readers than bloggers.

Consequences for international Web marketing

  • In absolute and relative numbers that the German blogosphere is very, very small. It is on par with Farsi, which might overtake German in the near future: there are only 72 million people who speak Farsi compared to app. 98 million German speaking people.
  • Capturing a large part of the German blogosphere is easier than in other languages, because there are fewer bloggers per potential reader.
  • Other blogospheres are much larger in relation to the number of their internet users. For example the Japanese, Chinese, English or Italian blogosphere are much larger (4x to 24x times!). And blogs there are likely to attract many more visitors, too. Competition for readers is likely to be fierce in these languages.

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How international are German Websites?

John Yunker, the host of “Global by Design”, has invited me to publish some of my articles on this blog. I feel honoured to be here and will try my best to give you some insights into Web internationalization in Germany.

I thought a good place to start was with a few simple statistics to see how German companies stacked up on internationalization.

How international are German Websites?

So I decided to count the number of languages used on the Web sites of Germany’s top companies. I chose to explore the Web sites of the companies in the DAX30 index, which lists the top 30 German publicly traded companies (a sort of little brother of the U.S. Dow Jones index). At this stage I decided not to analyze the quality of localized sites.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But during my analysis I encountered several issues:

  • Because of usability or design problems I had a hard time on some Websites to find the international or localized Websites. Being German I had several advantages and finally discovered the other Websites. But it was much harder than it should have been.
  • If a company has a Website for the USA and Canada, does this count as one or two localized Websites? In my opinion they are actually two Websites, because localizing a Website for a country or market is much better than translating the content.
  • Holdings or groups are just an umbrella for their subsidiary companies, so usually their Websites do not provide much information. But the subsidiary companies might own popular consumer brands, as is the case with the Adidas Group which owns Adidas and Reebok. For any such company I included the most prominent subsidiary in my analysis.

So this simple task turned out to be more work than anticipated. It included a lot of surfing and counting the localized Websites, the intended target markets as well as picking up some financial data from the annual reports for 2006.

Results

The diagram below shows the number of languages used on German Websites. The results showed some clustering for some values, so I decided to group the data roughly by these clusters.

DAX 30 Language Statistics

All companies used at least 2 languages, mostly German and English. 9 out of the DAX 30 companies (or almost a third) used only 2 languages. Most companies in this group belonged to regulated industries where state legislation and laws restrict business operations to the German market, e.g. banking, insurance or utilities. However, most of them do expand internationally, but they cannot reuse their company name or Website.

The other groups used 2-10, 10-20 and more than 20 languages or localized Websites respectively. This means that 50% of all companies in my analysis used 10 or more languages. In most cases the languages addressed strong or emerging markets, e.g. Chinese, Russian, Spanish, Japanese, and several Eastern European languages.

Altogether, I think German company Websites are in a good shape. I am looking forward to see the numbers for other countries.

Business Reasons

If you are wondering about the number of languages used on German Websites, there are some business reasons to ponder:

  • German companies depend heavily on foreign trade: the financial reports showed that most companies (in non regulated industries) made 50% of the revenues in foreign markets. Some reports even claimed as much as 80% of revenues to result from foreign trade.
  • Although Germany had a recession a few years ago, foreign trade allowed most companies to prosper and become independent of the German market.
  • After analyzing the government’s report on foreign trade, it became clear that company size and foreign trade correlate. Although the DAX30 companies account for less than 20% of the German economy, they get the lion’s share of foreign trade. Smaller companies depend much more on the German economy: they prosper and struggle with the German market.
  • Until recently German companies preferred export marketing which meant little risk and investment in foreign markets, but also lower margins and little control. In the last 2 years German companies pushed hard for global operations (e.g. offshoring, outsourcing, local subsidiaries) which means more risk and investment but also larger profit margins and more control.

Well, so much for me proving that I can count to 30 … I am looking forward to meeting you here again soon!

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