Study: Valley needs cohesive signage system

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WALLA WALLA -- Call it a sign of the times.

With more visitors making their way to Walla Walla, the need for a better sign system to help them find food, lodging and entertainment destinations is becoming more clear, a consultant told tourism stakeholders in January.

Navigation for newcomers isn't as easy as following the bends in the roads, consultant John Bosio said during Tourism Walla Walla's annual meeting. What the community needs is a cohesive system that reaches from Dayton to Milton-Freewater, upholding a single brand for the Valley that provides a seamless journey from one community to the next, building trust for the visitor along the way.

Bosio's Pennsylvania-based firm MERJE has been gathering information about Walla Walla's wayfinding system and plans to make recommendations for improvements this month.

A good system, he said, should consider every aspect of a person's travel into the community: from pre-arrival technology, such as locations on Google maps and municipal websites, to mobile applications, roadside signs and even visitor centers.

"This is not just a sign project. It's about the experience people have when they come to Walla Walla," he told a crowd of at least 50 government and tourism representatives. "The more people can find their way easily the more they'll want to come back."

MERJE officials, retained by Tourism Walla Walla, spent several days here in December, exploring the community and meeting with various stakeholder groups to determine needs and desires for signage. In January, Bosio returned and met with more than 30 winery operators.

He said the wineries offer a unique blend of artisan signs, from wall paintings to iron sculptures. He said the wineries also add a dimension he's not yet encountered in the cities where he's worked.

"We've done projects where we direct to wineries. We've never done a project where we direct to 150 of them," he said. Bosio said a possible solution to help visitors is designating the wineries by geographic zones and conveying the zones through their own signage.

The good news for the Valley, Bosio said, is the community is already one step ahead by having a distinct character. "Sometimes we do projects where the community is kind of generic," he said. "Here there's a certain vibe. There's a certain sophistication."

About 10 agencies contributed funding to the roughly $30,000 study. They included Tourism Walla Walla, the cities of Walla Walla, College Place and Milton-Freewater, the ports of Walla Walla and Columbia, the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance, Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Walla Walla Foundation.

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