Pura vida, the translation industry way

You may have noticed that MultiLingual published an issue on travel and tourism yesterday. We can learn a lot from travel. In February of 2017, I took my children to Costa Rica for a 15 day cross country adventure. We drove through several climate zones and hiked the dry forest, rain forest and cloud forest. We snorkeled in the ocean and watched a whale splash its tail. We took a boat ride in the mangroves and impersonated howler monkeys. We stayed at six different hotels, rented a car and were guided by tour guides from different providers. It was a real eye opener to see the ecosystem of tourism operators in Costa Rica.

In the short 15 days, I witnessed different styles of tour operators — some aim for exclusivity, some strive for volume, some are very focused at customer experience while others not so much (one naturist tour company had a survey done after each guided tour and each ground transfer while most companies did not survey their customers).

The experience very much reminded me of the translation industry, where we also have an ecosystem of players of large and small, volume versus niche. Everyone is striving to build a profitable company with plenty of growth. We seem to be in a competition with each other in a race to get bigger. It seems that small companies claim “small is beautiful,” but secretly everyone thinks otherwise.

I am the first one to acknowledge that money and financial security is very important and one of the most practical yardsticks of measuring the achievement of an entrepreneur. But what happens after we have bread on the table and our children have shoes? What keeps us going? The pursuit of getting bigger brings us what? More responsibilities and challenges to keep us up at night? I am sure the answers to these question vary from person to person. We all have our own reason for continuing. Some people have examined it more than others. The stay at Pacuare Lodge, my favorite hotel of the trip, gave me clarity as to why I keep doing what I do after 18 years and my own dialogue of small versus big.

A 19 room hotel

Our stay at Pacuare Lodge was characterized by eye-opening uniqueness and top-notch hospitality. All the lodges were candlelit only (my kids begrudgingly put down their iPods and computers); we ate candlelit dinners every day but had to wear headlamps to see what we were eating; we had a rain forest themed bathroom including an unforgettable outdoor shower; there were always extra guides to ensure our safety and enjoyment (at the canopy and hiking into the forest); and gourmet meals every day including seared tuna (although my children were secretly hoping for chicken fingers).

The lodge owners also make the best of the resources available to them. In the absence of ocean waves and beaches, Pacuare finds its own unique way of creating “deep” travel experiences for its customers. It offers several variations of eight-hour or multi-day hikes deep into the jungle (some to a native reserve only accessible by a very narrow foot path).

As I soaked in my experience, my brain kept digesting how the learning was relevant to me and the translation industry. Here are my take-homes:

  • The Pacuare Lodge was built off the beaten tourist path (which meant the cost of land and labor was lower than built-up areas). Note to self: what is the equivalent of “off the beaten path” for the translation industry?
  • Leverage available resources (proximity to native reserve — hiking, nature education, more personal attention- three people at the zip line as opposed to the norm of two everywhere else, two guides at the hikes as opposed to one, very personal attention everywhere)
  • Exclusive experience yet guests feel a great sense of value (feeling safer at all the hikes and tours, gourmet meals included in stay). How do we make our clients in the translation industry feel the same? What could we learn from this?
  • Balance of profitability and sense of purpose (well being and caring of the environment, its employees, and guests while running a profitable, vibrant business). Don’t we feel good for making all the stake holders prosperous?
  • Quality trumps quantity. Isn’t it better to run an amazing 19 room hotel than a lousy 500 room one? If we can find all the ingredients of what makes us feel alive and happy, do we really need other people to tell us what we do is enough?

Pura vida

In Spanish, the literal translation of pura vida means pure life. It has a lot of cultural connotations for Costa Ricans. It represents their love of nature, friends and family and the longing for a simple, peaceful life. It represents the quintessential spirits of its culture. We could all learn from the essential teaching of pura vida — clarity of what is important to us; at peace with the bounds of our geniuses and be fully present in life.

The journey to Costa Rica was a pura vida moment to me. Now every time I feel I am in a rat race, I remind myself of the 19 room hotel and how I would like to build my own version of it so I could reach my full potential while in full harmony with my environment – providing well being to people that I come in contact with, my children, my employees and clients, the environment and the universe at large. I know now why I do what I do and how I am going to continue my entrepreneurial journey.

May you find your pura vida moment too.

Huiping Zhang
Huiping Zhang is the president of wintranslation and an entrepreneur with 17 years of experience managing multilingual communication services.


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