Along with accolades, Roger Brooks delivered plenty of criticism in his report on the Yarmouth and Acadian Shores region.
Brooks, an expert in the fields of tourism, community branding, downtown development, and destination marketing, was contracted by Destination South West Nova Scotia to “mystery-shop” the region this summer and evaluate his experience.
He presented his report and “go-forward suggestions” at the Yarmouth Wesleyan Church on Thursday.
Brooks went through a list of 60 items in his analysis. The importance of signage came up repeatedly. In his travels he encountered many businesses that lacked signs indicating they were open. He also found many that were confusing and not consistent in design. French signage with no English translation was criticized. Signs also need to extend a friendly welcome and information.
He gave top marks to the Acadian Village in West Pubnico for several reasons.
“We have been in probably 150 museums in Nova Scotia and some of them are absolutely fabulous. This was our number one historical attraction. You know why? It’s because it’s where their families grew up. That really brought it home. They (staff) were entertaining, they were fun.”
Dennis Point Wharf holds huge potential as a destination to inform visitors about the fishing industry. Interpretive signs and guides would do a better job than the Living Wharf program that exists now, Brooks said. Although the latter is a good idea, the three-hour schedule on specific days at different wharfs is too limiting.
A QR code that would pull up a website or a video would be another idea, he said.
He pointed out the windmills in West Pubnico Point as worthy of more promotion. Brochures focusing on particular interests such as antiques, churches, cycling or other activities should be printed, he said.
“Promote your anchor tenants,” he said, referring to the most powerful destination points.
“Everybody else benefits.”
He also suggested that a “best of” publication be created.
“We were here for five days and we never found all of your hidden gems,” he said.
Businesses are not catering to visitors by closing at night, he noted. Visitors are busy hiking, kayaking, bird watching, taking photos or involved in other activities during the day. His research has shown they’re ready to shop in the evening.
“Seventy per cent of all retail consumer spending takes place after 6 p.m.,” he said.
“Are you open?”
He added that 80 per cent of tourism spending takes place in a pedestrian setting. Main Street needs to transform.
Blade signage that is perpendicular to the street is the secret to success when it comes to easier viewing and drawing customers, he said.
“The average retailer that adds blade signs will see their sales increase by 15 per cent, for a $200 investment,” he said.
Yarmouth also needs more greenery and flowers downtown. It softens the transition between facades and concrete. He pointed out Mahone Bay as an example.
“Copy them,” he said.
Creating an accurate wayfinding system and signage should be a priority for the area was another recommendation.
“We didn’t see a whole lot of spending opportunities,” he said.
“Tourism is the front door to your non-tourism economic development. If you want industry, anyone that would set up an industry in this area, they are going to come here first as a visitor.”
“It is the purest form of economic development. It’s the fastest growing industry in all of your provinces.”
Roger Brooks’ complete report will be available on the Yarmouth and Acadian Shores website at a later date.