Close up of a large brown tourist sign

Sign rationalisation

The Tourist Signing Rationalisation (3.8mb) guide has been prepared to provide road signing practitioners with:

  1. Principles regarding the travel behaviour of consumers,
  2. Key tools that can be applied in their local situation to help avoid and ease signing congestion,
  3. Practical case studies from around Australia, that highlight how some regions and towns have approached the issues.

Download Tourist Signing Rationalisation: A practical guide for road signing practitioners (3.8mb).

Sign rationalisation | National Tourism Signing Reference Group
Close up of a large brown tourist sign

Sign practitioners – information for road authorities and Regional Tourism Organisation

This section provides road authorities and regional/local tourism organisations with information about creating a tourism signing system that communicates with visitors effectively, meets the needs of tourism operators, and protects the amenity of our road reserves.

Visitor navigation is an important part of ensuring that visitors have a positive experience when they come to your area. It is, however, misunderstood and often forgotten by local and regional tourism organisations that have worked hard to attract those visitors in the first place.

Tourist road signing – the challenges

Road signing to tourism attractions and services can be a contentious issue for road authorities.
The cause of the tension is often the absence of clear, fair and equitable guidelines for the tourism industry. There is also a misperception by many operators that signs are promotional tools.

The design and placement of signs rarely considers the needs of visitors. The result is often a clutter of signs that fails to convey the key information a visitor needs to know, and detracts from the amenity of some of the State/Territory’s most scenic and natural assets.

More information for sign practitioners:

Sign rationalisation | National Tourism Signing Reference Group
Close up of a large brown tourist sign

Auditing your local area’s tourist signs

Audit the signs on your local roads to understand the experience of a motorist as they move through your area.

Your audit should include all commercial signing, including property business signing. You may choose to exclude regulatory signs, as they are installed for motorist safety and management. Tourism and services signs are considered to be discretionary signing.

Effective audits of road signs – how to

Audits should be conducted in sections that reflect how most consumers experience the road network, rather than in individual streets/roads. If a motoring visitor typically accesses a town’s centre from the highway via Black Street, then by turning right into White Street, then this is often the most informative way to audit.

Rather than a simple visual reconnaissance, your audit should be comprehensive and include written and photographic details of signs because this method isolates the signs from other distractions and can better highlight issues. This approach helps roads staff to clearly identify which signs need to be removed or replaced. GPS locations provide even greater accuracy.

Audits should be conduced for both directions of travel, although signs on the right-hand side of the road should be included in the left-hand audit, if they are clearly visible to the traveller in the left carriageway.

Operator collateral audits

Tourism operators often see roadside tourist signs as marketing. Some rely almost exclusively on them to communicate with potential customers, and neglect other avenues, such as brochures and websites.

A road sign is the final link in the communication chain between a tourism business and their public. It should provide reassurance of directional instructions, which should already have been communicated to the traveller by the business operator.

It’s a useful auditing exercise to review marketing material prepared by local tourism operators. Check to see that they include clear navigational instructions, and a map. Check for use of the alpha-numeric designators or road names used by the road authority on their directional signs, as this is often the simplest and clearest way to direct people.

Armed with such information, it may then be worthwhile running an awareness campaign in the local industry to highlight the importance of including good navigational instructions in marketing materials.

Sign rationalisation | National Tourism Signing Reference Group
Close up of a large brown tourist sign

Developing a local tourist signing policy

Local governments should aim to devise a local tourist signing policy that is fair, relevant, reflects the requirements of local road authorities, champions the needs of the visitor and promotes the tourism offering of their area.

A local area signing policy should:

  • state clearly the council philosophy under which tourist signing is permitted and of the parameters within which local tourism operators can apply
  • promote fairness and equity
  • recognise the commercial needs of business within the context of the information needs of visitors, how the travelling public processes information, and the rights of the resident community
  • be formally adopted by Council and made available in written and electronic formats.

Developing a policy – how to start

Most councils base their signing policies on the Tourist Signing Guidelines of their respective State or Territory. These guidelines try to provide a degree of consistency across the state/territory and are binding on roads under the control of the road authority.

Most councils use the broad principles of the state/territory guidelines regarding eligibility criteria, sign format etc., then add components to reflect any special needs or conditions of their own communities. This also ensures that, where an operator’s signing request spans both main roads and the local road network, consistency is maintained between signing on both road networks.

A local area signing policy should reflect any special planning or urban design policies relevant to that area, especially in environmentally and culturally sensitive locations.

Your local tourist signing policy – what to include

Aim for your local area signing policy to be concise, relevant, understood and useful to the local tourism industry.

As a basis, a local signing policy should:

  1. include eligibility criteria for tourism attractions and services, including any special sectors, e.g. wineries
  2. specify the number of signs permitted for eligible businesses and from what distance they can be signed
  3. note any moratoria on tourist signing on certain streets/roads, intersections etc.
  4. describe the signing application and assessment process, including dual processes for handling applications concerning signing on both main and local roads
  5. outline the type of signs permitted to be used, and under what circumstances
  6. state the maximum number of signs permitted at any intersection and the means of rationalising them when demand exceeds the permitted limit
  7. include information about the requirement that tourist road signs be manufactured to Australian Standards and to the road authority specifications, using approved sign designers, manufacturers and installers
  8. clarify who is responsible for the cost of design, manufacture, installation, maintenance, alterations and replacement of signs
  9. explain how symbols and route markers can be used on signs (note: Road authorities only permit the use of symbols tested under A.S. 2342)
  10. state the broad conditions of the permit under which businesses will be granted use of the road reserve for signing and for what period (detailed conditions should be part of the sign permit itself, which needs to be signed-off by the operator)
  11. include a statement saying that, notwithstanding the terms of the permit, the road authority reserves the right at any time to relocate or remove the sign for traffic management and/ or safety reasons.

Who should be involved?

The preparation of a tourist signing policy should be done in conjunction with local tourism bodies, or at least a steering committee representing road authorities and tourism interests. Councils need to be able to prove that the policy has had input from the tourism industry.

Tips for creating an effective tourist signing system – tips

Sign rationalisation | National Tourism Signing Reference Group
Close up of a large brown tourist sign

Resources & Communications

To create a tourist signing strategy that will be embraced by local businesses, road authorities and local communities, it is important to include the relevant parties, resource the task of responding to enquiries about tourist signs and communicate with industry.

The right resources

It’s important that a council clearly identifies tourist signing as a role, or at least as an assigned task, within its structure. This enables one person to take ‘ownership’ of the task, to develop an understanding of the industry, and to provide a recognised contact point for operators.

Some councils choose a traffic engineer, others a member of the planning team, or an economic development/tourism officer. While technical knowledge is part of the task, the officer must also be enthusiastic and have effective interpersonal skills.

Communication – keeping councils, road authorities and tourism groups talking

Communication is vital to creating and maintaining an equitable and effective tourist signing system. Even in smaller municipalities without a great deal of tourism product, it is important that regular communication take place between council officers, the State/Territory road authority officer and representatives of the local Regional and Local tourism associations. This may be formalised into a regular meeting, or it may simply be via telephone or email hook-up. The essential ingredient is that all parties communicate; the way it is achieved is less important.

Establish a Tourism Signing Reference Group

In larger regions, and/or where tourism plays an important economic or recreational role, a tourism signing reference group may be a good idea. A reference group should include representatives of road authorities, tourism associations and industry operators. It serves as a regular forum for discussion on navigation and signing issues and helps the road authority to adjudicate on contentious signing applications.

Such a group does not need to meet frequently, and its members should be chosen for their ability to take a wider view and to see tourism from a consumer perspective. There may be occasions when they will need to absent themselves from discussion about a competitor’s application, or to abstain from voting.

Sign rationalisation | National Tourism Signing Reference Group
Close up of a large brown tourist sign

Developing a visitor navigation strategy

Adopt a fair, consistent, and clear approach to tourist road signing in your area. Follow these 24 steps to devise a tourist signage strategy for your council, local government area or road authority:

  1. Assign the task of tourist signing to an appropriate officer within the organisation
  2. Identify the appropriate road authority officer in charge of tourist signing for your area
  3. Ssk the local tourism organisation to nominate a staff /committee member to act as industry advisor on tourist signing matters
  4. Determine how often, when and how the three key signing people should communicate
  5. Consider forming a regional tourist signing committee that includes local tourism operators
  6. Audit key tourism navigational routes to determine existing problems, gaps and issues
  7. Audit the marketing literature and websites of local tourism operators to find out if they are providing adequate navigational instructions to their customers
  8. Consider an awareness campaign to the local tourism industry promoting use of navigational instructions in marketing collateral
  9. Ask visitors for feedback about their information needs and navigation patterns
  10. Request feedback from the local tourism industry on signing needs and issues
  11. Collect feedback from any relevant stakeholder groups on signing needs and issues
  12. Develop a communication plan to keep councillors, politicians, business and residents informed about the project, its aims, outcomes and benefits
  13. Identify and remove redundant signs in the area
  14. Identify illegally installed or suspect road signs and issue ‘show cause’ notices to the relevant business owners
  15. Audit local roads for out-of-date or inappropriate information and remove if possible
  16. Review the condition, current visitor use and available marketing support material for local area tourist drives/touring routes and remove drive/route signs where appropriate
  17. Identify locations where signs need to be rationalised and/or reduced
  18. Develop rationalisations for each location
  19. Use audits, consumer research data, industry and stakeholder consultation and rationalisation concepts to prepare a local area signing strategy and signing policy, using the visitor ‘hierarchy of needs’ as a guide
  20. Seek formal adoption of your sign policy/rationalisation plan from your road authority
  21. Determine and obtain road authority financial and in-house resourcing required to undertake rationalisation program
  22. Negotiate with sign owners to rationalise sign clutter at nominated locations
  23. If talks with sign owners in cluttered locations fail, issue ‘sunset’ notification to operators, stating deadlines for removal and/or sign re-application
  24. Request that your local road authority allocate adequate resources to ensure compliance with the signing strategy over the longer term.