Monday, February 21, 2011

Will I Feel Welcome? Be Able to Find My Way?

Arriving in at an airport I’d never visited before  - Memphis, Tennessee ( made me think about the signs that directed me toward my immediate destination – baggage claim.  How would I feel, I asked myself, if I didn’t speak English?  Could I find what I wanted, needed?

Thanks to the graphics along with the English words,  I could easily find my way to baggage claim.  Images of suitcases matched with directional arrows – it was easy.  And to my surprise, when it came time to find my way out the Exit sign was not just in English.  It was in Korean, French, Dutch, German, and Spanish.   An airport that serves 10 million passengers a year, both domestic and international, Memphis knows one way to make its customers feel welcome.   Sadly, this isn’t true at all US airports I’ve visited. 

For the US traveler we benefit from the fact that English is the global business including the business of travel.  In Hong Kong or Florence, Singapore or Paris, you can find your way reading signs in English or by translating the images presented.   In  Los Angeles the International Terminal may have some signs in Spanish, others in Chinese or Korean, but the other terminals like Terminal 5 where I arrived last night  all signs are in English and lack graphic images to guide you.   Not a warm welcome.

Aside from wishing to start a movement to improve the signs in our US airports I am reminded that we travelers need to expand our vocabulary when we travel.   We can’t simply pay attention as to how to say Please, Thank You and I’m Lost in the language of the country of our destination.  To that list we should add Exit, Baggage Claim, and My Bag Didn’t Arrive.  Is it time for a special dictionary for Business Travelers?

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