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Signs of fear: Keeping tourists in the dark


New Hampshire is one of only five states that does not allow what are called service signs to be placed on interstate highways. Those are the blue signs that contain up to six small advertisements for local businesses such as restaurants, hotels and gas stations. In this case, our zeal to boost tourism might actually be harming it.

New Hampshire allows the signs to be erected on highway off-ramps, but not on the sides of the highways. Putting them by the roadside would discourage tourism, some say.

"I oppose any expansion," Bartlett Rep. Gene Chandler, House Republican leader, said last week. "Enjoying the scenic beauty of New Hampshire is the primary reason they come here. People in the North Country do not favor these types of things once you get up where the visitors come to look at our mountains and foliage."

Well, visitors do come for the scenery. And along the way they need to stop for bathroom breaks, gas and food. Making it as inconvenient as possible to find those conveniences is not a good marketing strategy.The New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association supports a bill that would allow the signs to be placed along the highways themselves. Association President and CEO Mike Summers said last week that the signs would help New Hampshire businesses by letting customers know where they are.

He's right. These are not giant billboards. They are not going to obstruct scenic views. They stand alongside the road, at slightly higher than eye level, and let travelers know what options are available at the next exit. Moving these signs a few hundred yards to make them visible before drivers commit to an exit will not drive tourists away from New Hampshire.

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