The Linguist

The Linguist 53,1

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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24 The Linguist FEBRUARY/MARCH FEATURES Miranda Moore asks whether the UK hotel industry is meeting the language needs of its customers When I started researching an article about the use of languages in the hotel industry last year, I assumed that there would be an army of skilled linguists to interview, together with some well-developed language policies that could be held up as good-practice models. The industry is all about working with people who come from other countries and speak other languages, yet my assumptions now seem depressingly naive. The reality is an industry that undervalues the benefits of making the effort to communicate with clients in their own languages and of offering services in the languages of their main target markets. Several colleagues told me they had tried long and hard to find linguists working in the area of hospitality. One had phoned several hotels in central London before giving up, disheartened. Yet there are exceptions to the rule: one name (and only one name) kept coming up as a model for others working in the industry. Hal Jaffer, the owner and General Manager of London's Hotel La Place, speaks French, Japanese, Italian and Spanish. 'We have at least 27 languages available at the front desk' for basic communications such as meeting and greeting guests, he says. 'We do training for staff in different languages, especially how to greet people,' explains Jaffer, who was made a Business Language Champion in 2009. 'If somebody from Turkey comes in, for example, we can greet them in their language and it makes all the difference to the customer. It makes them feel important.' In a capital city that offers around 110,000 hotel rooms to 15.5 million visitors a year, hospitality is big business and competition is huge. Assuring repeat business is a must for any hotel. For Jaffer, offering other languages is key. 'If you go somewhere and one company makes the effort to speak some English to you and the other doesn't, which company are you likely to use? It creates a little door,' he says. After brushing up on the Japanese he learnt through a girlfriend, Jaffer got his business cards printed with Japanese on one side and English on the other 'in proper Japanese style'. The hotel quickly became known in Japan. 'People come to stay with us and say "Oh, you're Hal, you speak Japanese." They never speak to me in Japanese but it still helps the business,' he explains. It's making the effort that counts. For that reason, he says, language fluency isn't necessarily important. 'You need a level where you can have a simple conversation with people.' Essential skills While Jaffer's Japanese customers may be comfortable using English, at H10 London Waterloo, skills in other languages are essential for staff to be able to communicate with guests. On the uniforms of all front-of- house staff, little flags are pinned, indicating the languages they speak, which include German, Portuguese and Japanese. As Front Office Chief Leader, Miguel Magdalena helps guests in French, English Great British hospitality? In a city that offers 110,000 hotel rooms to 15.5 million visitors a year, assuring repeat business is a must

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