Don’t Mention The War

“Don’t mention the war – I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it.”

Jurga Zilinskiene, MD of Today Translations examines the opportunities for overseas trade and says it’s time the British started fighting for new customers in Europe.

The troubled Fawlty Towers Hotel in Torquay may not be the first choice for a visiting German family hoping to savour the sights of the south coast or the ideal placement for a young Spanish waiter hoping to improve his English. But in New Britain, could Basil Fawlty be convinced of the huge benefits of making his business more attractive to foreign customers – whose first language may not be English?

In 1970’s Britain, life was simple for Basil, he didn’t have to try too hard – guests were grateful for an en-suite, “After all, we all know who won the war”. Attracting the right class of customer then, simply called for an ad in a posh magazine.

The world has moved on – even small companies can access global markets. Basil could learn much from the proprietor of the Adlon Hotel (a small hotel in Stockholm about the size of Basil’s place). His multilingual website has over 3,000 visits per week! 47% of these are in foreign languages.

The same applies to other sectors. If Basil were exporting, he could learn a lesson in foreign affairs from Alphasonics UK who developed a language strategy and saw export sales rise from 37% to 54% in one year!

The internet is the secret weapon in the battle for customers and the winners will be those businesses who understand the importance of being seen on the web and enable their customers to trade with them electronically.

Tricky bit for Mr. Fawlty, is that the majority of people prefer websites in their native language and are thus more likely to buy things.

If Basil is serious about taking on Europe, he could recruit an army of friendly linguists to help him with his war plans – Oh no! I just mentioned the war again.

Source: London Business Matters, Dec 2004