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Wayfinding system's boost economic development, part 1

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

Roger Brooks uses tourism, downtown development and creative marketing to increase local and visitor spending. During a recent visit via webinar to Bandera, he shared his philosophy of using branding to develop a community with instant recognition by travelers.
In addition to his speaking and teaching chores, Brooks is an at-large director of the US Travel Association. Early in his career, Brooks provided tour management for Concerts West before taking his organizational and marketing skills to Canada to develop Whistler Resort and host much of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

In 1991, he began a four-year program to help Ocean Shores, Washington, regain its status as a destination community and the town now hosts nearly 3.5 million visitors annually.

Brooks authored the successful "Your Town: A Destination - The 25 Immutable Rules of Successful Tourism," which provides communities with a summary of the wisdom of his experiences, explaining what works and what doesn't.

One of the keys to growing into a destination community, according to Brooks, is developing a wayfinding system. This organized system of signage and gateways accomplishes a variety of goals.

First, it educates locals and visitors about what your community has to offer. Second, if properly designed, it introduces your brand. And thirdly, it eliminates sign clutter, those clusters of TxDOT, city and private signs that tend to accumulate at street corners.

According to Brooks, the growing use of GPS and other navigation systems cannot substitute for a good wayfinding system. They are not always up-to-date, for one example. Good signs also tell us things we don't know about. After all, you can't ask SIRI to tell you the way to the Frontier Times Museum if you don't know it exists.

The best part about a wayfinding system is that it will increase retail sales, said Brooks, "I guarantee it."

There are lots of different aspects to an effective wayfinding system. The system will include vehicular traffic signage, pedestrian wayfinding, place identifiers, pole banners, visitor information kiosks, trail markers and gateways.

Gateways can be placed at the entrance of a community, or be used to mark areas within the city, such as an historic district, shopping district, arts and entertainment district.

Pedestrian wayfinding can include you-are-here maps, as well as markers that give directions and distances to various locations. This type of signage can be built or attached to existing poles, color coded for easy identification, and easily changed.

Brooks suggests that even those ubiquitous "Welcome to our City" signs so often seen at city limits can be reorganized so that service organization and church logos look neat, attractive and, above all, consistent.

He also encourages visitor kiosks "which are open 24 hours a day." His studies show that less than 5 percent of visitors stop at a visitor center when they come to a community. Kiosks can be located in parks or on street corners, any place where visitors frequently pass by. They can be fairly elaborate covered structures, or as simple as a box hung on a wall with slots for businesses and attractions to insert their brochures.

Trail markers, commonly seen along walking and hiking trails, can also be adapted for districts within a city. Bandera, for example, could install an historic trail, leading visitors to St. Stanislaus, the Courthouse, Frontier Times Museum, 11th Street, and several historic homes in the city. Markers could tell people how far it is to the next site. Information signs could tell them a brief history of the location. Bandera County could also create a wayfinding system to lead visitors to amenities, attractions and services throughout the county.

Next week, more on Brooks' suggestions for creating a wayfinding system.