Where do Port Alberni’s signs lead? Do they encourage visitors to drive on through to the West Coast or do they direct them up into our downtown?
That’s what a team of Vancouver Island University tourism students is hoping to find out.
“We’re doing a signage audit for the town,” said Eric Chalker during a visit to Port Alberni in early November.
“We’re assessing all the road signs and tourist attraction signs as if we’ve never been here.”
The four students will determine what signs they feel are helpful and which are not.
“What signs are effective, what signs are useless, different recommendations, where a sign should or shouldn’t be… stuff like that,” said Chalker.
“We’re just following the major routes in: from Tofino, two from Nanaimo and then from Bamfield. I think the community is aware that they’re a drive-through city for tourists so they want to know how useful the directions are.”
After all, if visitors can’t find what they’re looking for, why would they stay in Port Alberni?
“It’s in terms of way finding, making their way to visitors’ services… so people can find where to spend their money in the community. How else are they going to increase their infrastructure?” said Dexter Lankenau.
The signage audit is part of a research methods class the students are taking at VIU.
The idea, city economic development manager Pat Deakin said, came from branding committee member Jolleen Dick.
“I suggested the signage audit because I had previous experience in conducting one while attending VIU,” said Dick, also a councillor for the Hupacasath First Nation.
“I knew it was something our community absolutely needed. Other communities on Vancouver island have been audited and I saw the opportunity for it to be our turn.”
The other signage audits done on the Island include the Cowichan Valley, Comox Valley, Tofino and Ucluelet, Dick added.
“I know with improved signage we can make a memorable impression and improve the visitor experience in Port Alberni and in the Alberni Valley.”
Mayor Mike Ruttan got on board and the idea was put into motion.
“Jolleen [Dick], Cherry Creek director Lucas Banton an myself met with four students from the VIU tourism program when were at the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance summit,” said Deakin.
While the audit is being done for the city—free of charge, although Deakin’s office is paying for their hotel rooms—they looked at signs outside of city limits too.
“We got some signs by Parksville too,” said Chalker.
“We found that there was a lot of clutter so far,” Chalker said.
“Remember we had those three signs within a kilometre? They were all the same… two of those can be taken out and save that much more money not creating those signs.”
For other attractions, there’s not enough signage.
“Visitors want to know where the visitors’ centre is for example and the signs are so short notice.”
As the only sign at the city’s entrance that says “Port Alberni,” the Rotary sign didn’t get high marks either.
“It’s pretty small, it should be four times bigger,” said Fabian Jucker.
It wasn’t all work and no play for the foursome.
“The Bulldogs comped them tickets to the Vernon Vipers game and the Young Professionals of the Alberni Valley were available to show them the community if needed,” said Deakin.
“We showed them the hospitality the city is renowned for.”
The signage audit report is due in December.