Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/business/articles/0923Mexico-Travel-Side-ON.html

Web sites offer spotty Spanish help

Sept. 23, 2003
08:35 AM

Chris Woodyard

On AeroMexico's Web site, online travelers immediately can choose their preferred language - English or Spanish - before they pore over flights and book one.

Southwest Airlines' Vamonos, the part of its Web site for Spanish speakers, gives lots of information about policies but doesn't allow bookings online in Spanish. It urges fliers to telephone a Spanish-speaking reservations agent.

Even as the nation's Hispanic immigrant population grows, travel Web sites vary widely in the amount of content they offer for Spanish speakers. "The travel industry is lagging behind most of the other industries," says Felipe Korzenny, a communication professor at Florida State University and co-founder of Cheskin, a multicultural marketing firm. He says some credit card providers have extensive Spanish content on their sites, but "in travel services, I don't see it."

Shortcomings include:

- No booking capability. Southwest isn't the only one. United Airlines allows customers to ask about their frequent-flier miles, sign up for the frequent-flier program or see the status of a flight in Spanish. But the answers are still in English, and when it comes to booking a flight, you still must do it in English.

- Latin American customers only. Delta, American and Northwest are among the airlines that have Spanish content aimed at Latin American customers, but not for Spanish speakers already in the United States.

- Little or no Spanish language content. Expedia.com, Orbitz and Hilton.com are among the sites that don't offer Spanish-language content. "We did a bunch of research, and we found that our Hispanic customers are actually very happy with our U.S. dot-com site," says Andrea Riggs of Expedia.com.

Korzenny says about 60 percent of the U.S. adult Hispanic population prefers to speak in Spanish. With Hispanics' growing numbers and affluence, more travel providers are paying attention.

"Marketing executives are realizing they are going to have to make more of a concerted effort," says Eliot Phillips, who has studied airline Web sites as a partner in the marketing consulting firm Lippincott Mercer.

Some travel Web sites excel in Spanish-language content. Hertz and Avis both offer information and booking capability in Spanish and other languages.

"We feel this will give Spanish-speaking customers a higher level of comfort when dealing with our company," says Avis spokeswoman Susan McGowan.

Vegas.com, an independent site for booking hotel and show tickets to Las Vegas, just translated thousands of pages into Spanish. "The important thing is serving this community, not just marketing to them," says President Howard Lefkowitz.

More language capability is on the way. "They're working on putting it into a number of other languages," including Spanish, says Jeanne Datz, a Hilton spokeswoman.

While developing Spanish-language pages is manageable, having separate Spanish-language reservations systems online is "a challenge," says Henry Harteveldt of Forrester Research. "You are not talking about an easy-to-solve or inexpensive problem."