Translation:The tourists are in front of the hotels.
Could this not also mean 'The hotels are in front of the tourists' since both nouns appear to be in the nominative case? Or does word order dictate the meaning in this instance?
előtt is a postposition and stands immediately after the thing it applies to -- in this case, a szállodák előtt "in front of the hotels".
In this case, the word order is important. The two English sentences neither mean the same thing. So "A turisták a szállodák előtt vannak./The tourists are in front of the hotels." means, that the tourists are in front and the hotels are behind. "A szállodák a turisták előtt vannak./The hotels are in front of the tourists." means, that the hotels are in front and the tourists are behind.
Right, but what determines the meaning is not so much word order as the fact that the postposition appears after one noun or the other.
In Hungarian, the accusative is used only for direct objects. There is no direct object here.
- 'I build a hotel.' The word 'hotel' is the direct object of the transitive verb 'build'.
- 'I stand in front of a hotel.' No transitive verb, no direct object.
In some languages (e.g., German) the accusative is also used for the objects of certain prepositions. But that is not the case in Hungarian.