Client Talk: Marriott International, Inc.

When do clients say professional translation is worth it? By talking with clients outside the sales environment, we seek to uncover what’s truly important to them. The challenge as we move from one issue to the next with this column is to find patterns: What do these interviews tell us about how clients see our industry as a whole?


Sonia Zamborsky is director of product field support and communications, digital globalization for Marriott International, Inc. The largest hospitality company on the planet, Marriott has 30 distinct brands with hotels in more than 110 countries.

Zamborsky travels for work and fun. In 2017, she went to London, Dubai, Seoul, Lima, Buenos Aires, Milan and parts of Uruguay. She says, “I’m not fluent in any language [other than English] — Spanish comes closest — but I do know how to say ‘cheers!’ and ‘where’s the bathroom?’ in at least a dozen.”

A look at Marriott’s translation needs

Zamborsky oversees four different types of content. First there’s property information and feature descriptions. Then there’s booking info, like rates and room descriptions. Next comes website content: brand, loyalty, merchandising/deals, meetings/events and corporate info. Finally, there’s Marriott’s mobile app.

“My team supports fully-transactional (meaning you can shop, book and conduct loyalty activities), in-language sites for over a dozen languages,” Zamborsky explains, adding the total expanded after the Marriott-Starwood merger. Fourth quarter 2017, her group also added or enhanced sites in Italian, Korean, Traditional Chinese and Arabic. “Occasionally we’ll send a Word document or video for translation, but that’s rare for my team.”

Zamborsky’s next point of concern is to revamp their entire translation management system (TMS) and bring it in-house. But to do that, she says, “I have to get in line behind everyone else asking for budget.”

As it happens, “the bulk of our translation is done by vendors and flows through our TMS,” she explains. “We use an automated translation workflow that covers the four main types of content described above.”

As for the budget, “Digital’s budget is just over a million dollars,” Zamborsky says. “Other departments have other amounts they spend on translations and I’m not privy to that.” She also indicates that this budget may change moving forward due to merging Marriott
and Starwood’s localization programs. “As you can imagine, it’s quite a process.

Does Marriott Digital always send translation to professionals?

Most of the time, yes: hotel/booking content is almost always sent to a translation company “because of the volume” and “just for the sake of expediency.” But Zamborsky says that isn’t always the case for other materials: “we do offer properties the option to generate their own in-language content for certain parts of their hotel website, which may be provided by bilingual staff or in-country agencies working on offline campaigns.”

This decision, Zamborsky says, is discretionary: “for example, a hotel in Germany might want to write content for the German-speaking audience that’s slightly different from what they’ve entered in English. So they have the capability to write that content directly in German. The English content they enter will be translated into the other languages via the regular workflow.”

So 1-5, how important is professional translation?

“Definitely a 5,” she says, “assuming 5 is most important. Quality in-language content is a critical part of our business, particularly as our international growth/distribution begins to overtake our US growth. From the digital perspective, it’s important to speak the languages of our customers to increase brand awareness, grow loyalty and — of course — generate sales revenue.”

Looking for patterns

Zamborsky is the first buyer profiled in Client Talk who seems to understand what professional translators offer that bilingual employees can’t. Unlike companies from past months, Marriott’s bilingual staff doesn’t abandon their day jobs to localize. Why not? What message has Marriott gotten that the others didn’t?

If you look at Zamborsky’s response, her entire process heavily relies on using a TMS. In fact, she’s the first client to mention translation management at all. When translation is stripped of process and seen only as the sheer conversion of language, our industry loses its value-add. But by managing our services and presenting that management inside a technical framework, suddenly we have, and convey, greater purpose — a purpose clients can understand.