Posted by: patenttranslator | March 30, 2016

The Similarities and Differences between Hotel Booking Agencies and Translation Agencies

I needed to book a hotel yesterday.

I knew which hotel I wanted because I stayed in it before. It’s a very convenient hotel because it is not far from the airport and you can easily walk to a metro station that will take you downtown in minutes, or to a tram line if you need a shop nearby. It’s kind of dated and faded, but the rooms are big and clean, the bed is really big and comfortable and it has a big shower in the bathroom. And in the restaurant downstairs they serve a good breakfast, included in the price, of course, and the dinner, which you have to pay for extra, of course, was good too the last time I stayed there and I got to talk to some interesting people who were sitting across the table from me the last time I had a dinner there.

Most importantly, it’s cheap, just what a cheap guy like me needs. It’s probably a little cheaper because the management did not figure out how to put WiFi in every room the last time I was there – you have to go to a room downstairs to be able to get on your laptop. But then I figured, I could use the data on my iPhone if I needed Internet because I would be mostly sleeping there anyway, right?

It took me a while to remember the name of the hotel, but when I finally did, I went directly to its web page – and to my surprise, they had no vacancies. Maybe they have some kind of a convention there, or maybe they are finally renovating the hotel and putting WiFi in every room. But the web page had a helpful link to hotels nearby, so I clicked on the link, and voila – there was another hotel, a smaller but newer one, located only a few hundred yards from the one I knew.

So I went to the web page of that hotel because I really wanted to stay in that location. It’s not only that it’s convenient to the airport and not too far from downtown by public transport. Full disclosure: I used to live in that city for quite a few years, a long, long time ago, and I wanted to be able to walk up the hill about a mile to the street where I used to live when I was young to wallow in rich nostalgia while wondering about things that might have been had my life taken a turn in another direction a long, long time ago.

I know it’s crazy, but I sometime like doing things like that.

The hotel brought to me by the link looked newer and fancier and it seemed to cost 20 dollars more, but I figured I probably had no choice. So I started booking a room. But the web page was unimpressive, the colors were washed out and the design was ugly and so counter-intuitive that it was in fact a little difficult to figure out what the real price was.

I don’t know about you, but when I have doubts about the price, I get suspicious. So I went back to Google and it took me to, of course, where else. Just for the heck of it I clicked on the same hotel that was linked to the one that was fully booked. Unlike the web page of the actual hotel, this web page was very easy to navigate, the colors and the design were not torture for my eyes, and it looked like a nice, comfortable room was only 10 dollars more than in the old hotel, not 20 dollars more. So I finally booked the room that I needed.

Why am I telling you all that? What does it have to do with translators or “the translation business?”

Maybe nothing, and maybe a lot. After I booked the room, I went to the booking agency’s blog – I do strange things like that sometime – and I found out from the post that I was reading on it that although just about every hotel has a website from which one can book a room, some 75% of bookings in hotels are made through various popular booking agency sites.

One reason for that must be that unlike the owners or managers of many hotels, the managers of booking sites put a lot of thought, effort and money into the booking sites for hotels that make them good money, unlike many translators, who should be the owners and managers of their skills and expertise, but who too often forget to put enough thought, effort, and yes, even money into their websites (if they even have one) and other forms of marketing and advertising.

A hotel booking agency must have a contract with the hotels it is marketing and advertising and its take is about 20 percent of the cost of the room. That’s a lot of money that the hotel is losing to the agency due to managerial incompetence, year, after year, after year.

Most translation agencies’ take is about 50 percent and in the globalized “translation industry”, some manage to grab even more. Unlike agencies in “the translation industry” who prefer to call themselves “LSPs” as in “Language Services Providers”, hotel booking agencies do not falsely claim that they are “hotel room providers”. The guests obviously know that the real service providers are the hotel owners, desk clerks, bell boys and chamber maids, not the hotel booking agencies.

Hotel booking agencies don’t need to pretend that they are what they are not.

They simply concentrate on their expertise, which lies in gathering of and maintaining current information, promoting hotel websites through search engine optimization and other types of marketing and advertising, and of course making sure that they get paid well and on time. They must be also constantly trying to figure out how to make more money by adding other services for which they could charge a commission, maybe through agreements with car rental companies or tour operators. That must be how it works these days in a world that is interconnected through Internet where everybody is interdependent on everybody else.

Translation agencies, on the other hand, need to pretend constantly all kinds of things that are simply not true. They call themselves “language services providers” and sometime even “language providers”, as if their customers were pitiful mutes.

They are also big on “language technology”, which means mostly machine translation, the result of which may or may not mean what was in the original language. They are furiously trying to figure out how to sell machine translation, which has been available for free on the Internet already for a couple of decades, to clients for good money. There is so much money in these markets, they keep saying on the blogs, I forgot how many tens of billions of dollars these wonderful markets are worth according to them.

They are saying that in order to gain these markets, they are developing their “domain expertise”, which means MT engines for specific fields, such as advertising or patent translation. But since the only way to know whether a machine translation says more or less the same thing as the text in the original language is to have the whole thing basically retranslated by a human translator who possesses a human brain (as opposed to zombie translators whose brains are atrophied), they are trying to turn human translators into what they call “machine translation post-processors” who would be paid much, much less than actual translators.

Human translators constantly complain on social media about the status quo in the translation industry. But how many of them have realized that unless they make it possible to be found directly by clients, unless they can find work for themselves without the intermediary of the translation agencies, they will be completely dependent on the translator booking agencies, who are equivalent to but infinitely more domineering in “the translation industry” than the hotel booking agencies are in the hotel and hospitality industry.

Human translators constantly emphasize on social media that they are professionals and that they should be treated as such.

But how many behave like professionals? Would a professional simply use a free e-mail address on Hotmail? That would be like a real estate agent who comes in an old, battered piece of junk car to meet a client buying an expensive house.

Would a professional look for work on blind auction sites such as Proz where a crowd of hungry translators must be fighting over who will get some work today based on who will ultimately come up with the lowest price?

Would a professional agree to interact with a booking agency through “portals” based on extremely constricting and often illegal agreements that sometime treat translators as if they were nothing more than slaves? Would a professional sign a clause stipulating that if the booking agency decides in its wisdom to sue a translator, the translator will pay “reasonable attorney’s fee” of the booking agency, on top of whatever other penalties may be demanded?

I think not. A beginner might do all of those things to have some work, any work at all. Once the beginner starts thinking like a professional, he or she would start acting like one, which might include among things:

  1. Getting a good specific Internet domain that makes it possible for clients looking for precisely the kind of service that a professional translator is providing to find this translator without the intermediary of a translation agency.
  1. Having a well functioning website that makes it possible for a client to actually find a professional translator without the intermediary of a translation agency.
  1. Trying to determine who the direct clients are, where they are, and spending as much effort and time as was spent previously bidding on blind auction sites to figure out how to contact these clients to offer them professional services directly, without an intermediary.
  1. Broadening the scope of services by entering into agreements with other translators of other languages and in other translation fields, or with translators who can replace or help him or her temporarily, for example when there is too much work, or when a professional translator wants to take a break or go on a vacation.
  1. A professional does not say “no, I don’t do that” to a client who has a translation that needs to be done. If a client has the money to pay for the service, a professional translator will figure out how to get it done through another translator if need be, so that both of these professionals make enough money. Otherwise, the client will have no choice but to take his or her chances with “the translation industry”.

A professional hotel manager understands that a good website that works the way it is supposed to work means that instead of relying on booking agencies for 75% of the bookings in the hotel, 75% of the rooms in the hotel are booked by the guests directly from the hotel’s website and only maybe 25% will come from booking agencies. A professional hotel manager understands that this will do wonders for the bottom line, while exactly the same services will be provided as before.

It so happened that because the hotel manager of the hotel where I wanted to stay was incompetent, at least when it came to the hotel’s website, a customer who absolutely wanted to stay in his hotel left his website and booked a room through a booking agency and the hotel thus lost probably at least 30 percent of the potential revenue from this particular transaction.

Just like the job of a professional hotel manager is to make sure that potential clients do not have to rely on hotel booking agencies, the job of a professional translator is not only to translate, but also to reduce dependence on the translator booking agencies as much as possible.

Different people will use different means to attain this goal, but it should be a no-brainer that complete dependence on a booking agent is a bad thing, no matter what business you are in.


  1. Hi,

    I enjoyed this article, and agree that individual translators could do more to market and sell their services and it would result in them getting more direct work. I have even seen several industrious people providing paid courses to translators on how they can market themselves. Why don’t more do this? My guess is that most translators prefer to focus on what they do best – translation.

    There is however one part of the post I’d like to respond to, and that is where you say that translation agencies “pretend that they are what they are not” and should not use names like “Language Service Provider”.

    Whenever I talk about my company I use either “translation agency” or “Language Service Provider” and I think both are fine. I wouldn’t call us a “translation provider” because indeed, we are not the ones doing the translation. We work with individual translators, same as most LSPs these days.

    Why do I think “Language Service Provider” is OK to use? While it’s true we don’t do translation ourselves, we do a lot of add-on work in-house, such as:

    – clean, convert, and otherwise prepare files for translation
    – import/export content for translation from files in various formats, including some rather arcane software and A/V ones
    – do Desktop Publishing / layout of translated texts, so they look good in the final format, whether graphic, video, eLearning course or a formatted text document
    – advise our clients on best practices, including on use of QA, CAT, TMS, CMS and authoring tools (and yes, sometimes MT if appropriate)
    – record audio in different languages, create subtitles, integrate all elements together to create an eLearning course or software in a new language
    – and more…

    All of the above are “language services” to me and that’s why I think using the name Language Service Provider is correct. Hotel booking websites usually offer just that – a nice user-friendly interface to book a hotel room. Sometimes, they’ll also let you book a flight or rent a car, but that’s the extend of their offer. Thus, they should be called “booking providers” or “booking agencies” as you rightly say.

    I’d love to hear what you think and whether I was able to make a convincing argument.

    Kind regards,



  2. I know you feel that you are a language service provider, and there is no question than translation agencies have to do a lot of work that hotel booking agencies do not need to provide.

    At the same same time, none of the services that you listed is translation. These are all ancillary and managerial activities, some of which are often not required, in particular in my line of work which is patent translation. The actual service is called translation or interpretation, and that is not what you yourself provide, or is it?

    Translation agencies would like to change their name to LSPs (as in “Language Service Providers”) and they try to call translators, the actual providers, “vendors” to hide the fact that they are what they are, namely agents, intermediaries, brokers. Other intermediaries, such as sport or artist agents, or hotel booking agents, don’t seem to need to lie to themselves in this manner.

    There is nothing wrong with being an intermediary. I am both an agency and a translator. I enjoy both functions, and I know that both functions require specific knowledge, a lot of work and also investment of time and money.

    But I also know that when I translate myself, I am the one providing the language service, when I am the agency, somebody else is providing the service and I am just trying to match the job with the best available translator who provides the service and facilitating the performance and delivery of the service.

    In other words, unlike some translation agency owners, I do not need to indoctrinate myself into believing the I am the actual language service provider.


    • Hi again,

      Looks like I didn’t manage to convince you after all 🙂

      No, we don’t have in-house translators and we never say we do. But to me “language services” is not limited to translation only, but also encompasses many other related services, some of which I listed above. That is why I feel it’s appropriate to call us a Language Service Provider.

      I don’t see the need to call translators our “vendors”. I call them translators. I don’t hide the fact that we are essentially an agency or intermediary, although one which provides many add-on services. If all we did was connect clients with translators, we’d be out of business soon.

      And I don’t think I am “lying” to myself or anyone else, as you suggested. If I did, I wouldn’t be doing the job I do.



      Liked by 1 person

  3. Similar experience in France, that has recently passed a law forbidding some abusive terms from or, that did prevent the hotel owner from offering a better rate than the one avertised on intermediary web sites.
    It happens that few boutique hotels in France actually have a web site; these family-owned businesses are not very tech-savvy and rather put their efforts in serving customers, paying bills, improving the building or amenities, etc.
    So since years the intermediary web sites made a lot of money by properly positioning themselves ins search engine results; the query “hotel ” will probably return a page of, tripadvisor etc. before you see any actual hotel web site.

    However hotel owners now realize that they are doing the job and others are making the money (sounds familiar to translators?) and the proper way to do that is investing in a proper web site and booking system, and the new law allows them to do that and offer a better price .

    My method as I never liked to pay middle-men for no work: find the hotel names you’re interested in, give each them a call and discuss, more often than not the owner will give you a better price than the booking web site, and you will be considered a human having done the effort of in-person contact, rather han a kooking number from the Internet.
    Just like for translators, discussing with the one who will actually do the job may give a better idea of where you’re going after all.
    I agree with your that fighting on reverse auctions for jobs is useless, but the directory lets clients find a translator and contact them, just like booking web sites lets you find hotels; in both cases yellow pages do not do very good but phone and e-mail may do wonders.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “My method as I never liked to pay middle-men for no work: find the hotel names you’re interested in, give each them a call and discuss, more often than not the owner will give you a better price than the booking web site, and you will be considered a human having done the effort of in-person contact, rather han a kooking number from the Internet.”

    Excellent idea, why didn’t I think of that? I will give it a try next time!


  5. I was of course talking about OTHER agency owners, not you, Jacob!


    • Haha, thank you 🙂 There are definitely different types of agencies out there, some with more transparency than others.

      By the way, I’m not an owner of Andovar or any other company. I’m just an employee who likes to read about the industry and contribute my point of view from time to time.



  6. Steve, interesting comparison. However, consider that the cost per click for high-converting keywords in the “translation industry” is in average, $30. I highly doubt translators can afford to pay $30/click and start playing the SEO/SEM game, trying to compete against the big guys (Textmaster, Gengo, OneHour Translation, Tolingo, you name them…), which we know they have millions to spend in AdWords.

    I see that you are well positioned, you have a great domain, and your posts contain good keywords —in a very subtle way, which I appreciate. I have no doubt that your site converts and attracts new clients. But for most translators, taking the time to start promoting themselves —let alone start learning about sales/marketing, it’s way beyond their skills and capacity.


  7. Thanks for your comment, Rodrigo.

    Well, then, it would seem that you have no choice than to work for the translation industry for a fraction of the money that you could make if you could figure out how to connect with direct clients.

    Thanks to my domain, supported by my blog, my website works very well. In fact, I just e-mailed a cost estimate for translating a Japanese patent to a patent lawyer who found me on the Internet about 30 minutes ago.

    And I don’t pay SEO experts to promote my site, nor do I advertise on search engines, I just rely on organic results.

    But mind you, it took me years to figure out how to connect with direct clients through the Internet, and I have to keep improving my web presence if I want to be able to survive.

    I think that if you put a lot of thought, time, and some money into how to connect with direct clients, you could do the same thing too. I know quite a few translators who only work for direct clients, including in your language combination.

    Incidentally, where did you get the number of $30 per one click, I wonder?


    • You can play with Keyword Planner in AdWords to get an idea of how much to pay. Here’s a screenshot for “translation” in the US market: Of course these are top keywords, “long tail” keywords (like, “spanish to english translation”) might be cheaper, but you need to spend more money to buy visibility in those.

      In my opinion, there’s little to no gain in trying to compete with SEM online. It’s just too crowded, and you need just too much money to just get started.

      SEO is a different story. Publishing content, getting the word out there… could work, but it takes a lot of time, and dedication.


  8. Hi Steve
    When I stay in the hotel I like, I always ask if they match internet prices, about 1/2 of them do, so next time I always call them directly and pay them directly. It is a win win situation.

    Liked by 1 person

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