tourists and residents could swim at Buckroe Beach in Hampton
Source: Boston Public Library, Tichnor Brothers Postcard Collection, Buckroe Beach, Virginia
What do people imagine when they consider vacationing in Virginia?
When they think of vacationing in Maine, they might conjure up images of lobsters and unspoiled rocky coastlines. Albuquerque might match up with hot air balloon festivals, while Montana might make potential visitors think of healthy outdoor activities in wide-open spaces. Las Vegas, Nevada brings forth images of gambling and good times.
Back in 1968, tourism officials in Virginia worked with the Martin & Woltz Inc., an advertising firm in Richmond that later became the Martin Agency, to develop a new slogan.
That company had failed to win the account in an earlier competition. When brainstorming ideas for a new submission, it examined brochures from other states and recognized that they highlighted a tangible aspect of their unique locations. The team considered slogans that emphasized how residents loved the mountains, the beaches, the history... and finally decided to truncate the slogan and create a simple, generalized "Virginia Is For Lovers."
To increase the potential to win the contract, the advertising agency submitted two proposals. Its long-forgotten alternative, with no possibility of being perceived as even slightly risque, was "Virginia: State of contrasts." (The Martin Agency once risked triggering a negative reaction by using "Plan your next affair in Virginia" in a business magazine to recruit business conferences, but there was no blowback.)
"Virginia Is for Lovers" logo, for tourism campaign launched in 1969
Source: WAMU Radio, Is Virginia Really for Lovers?
The first advertisement to recruit tourists using Virginia Is For Lovers was published in Modern Bride magazine in 1969. The slogan has been used for five decades as the Virginia branding slogan. It has provided flexibility, allowing the focus to shift to "Virginia Is For History Lovers," "Virginia Is For Beach Lovers," etc. In the late 1960's, the slogan was especially appealing:1
LOVE artwork at I-95 Visitor Center near Fredericksburg, 2012
Virginia tourism managers feared at the turn of the 21st Century that too many potential visitors were concluding that Virginia was not special enough to be worth a visit. Nine other states were committing more funding to attract tourists and their discretionary expenses. The "Virginia is for Lovers" advertising campaign used for decades had worked well, but by the year 2000 was perceived primarily as an invitation for couples to visit Virginia for romance.2
To attract families with children and adults looking for more than romance, the Virginia Tourism Corporation hired consultants to identify a new theme. The objective was to establish a stronger "brand identity" for Virginia, so more people would choose Virginia as their vacation destination. Ideally, by 2012, spending by travelers would grow from $13 billion annually to $41 billion.
James River at the Blue Ridge Parkway
The consultant's report determined Virginia had a "split personality" image. That made it harder to define why someone should make Virginia their vacation destination, particularly when North Carolina was so close. Dichotomies about Virginia included:3
Half Moone Cruise and Celebration Center, in Norfolk harbor
Not surprisingly, Virginia's beaches and historic sites were identified as the two elements that made the state "special" and worthy of a visit. However, there are beaches and historic sites in neighboring states as well, so a tourism campaign must overcome the perception that Virginia is "as good, but no better than others" for a trip.4
In the end, the consultants recommended that the state tourist officials relaunch advertising that expanded upon (rather than replaced) the traditional "Virginia is for Lovers" theme until potential visitors think of "simple goodness" when considering a trip to Virginia. For about a year, starting in 2002, the contractors recommended emphasizing:
Domestic Travel-Generated Tax Revenue in Virginia by Level of Government - 2011
Source: The Economic Impact of Domestic Travel On Virginia Counties - 2011
The state tourism managers followed the advice of the consultants. For the 40th anniversary of the slogan in 2009, the Virginia Tourism Corporation adopted a plan5 with the theme Live Passionately in order to attract "More People, Staying Longer, Spending More Money." Target audiences were defined as:
- Educated Female
- Baby Boomer
- Annual household income (HHI) of $75,000+
- Married, single, or empty nester
- Age 35+
- Passionate about travel and travel experiences
- Passionate about reconnecting with family and friends
By 2011, domestic travelers in Virginia spent $20.4 billion. Total domestic travel and tourism output in Virginia, including direct, indirect and induced output, was $34.1 billion. Northern Virginia benefitted from being near to the national capital, with its two major airports. Nearly 50% of the tourism-related jobs were generated in the five jurisdictions receiving the greatest amount of domestic travel expenditures:6
Arlington County ($2.7 billion)
Fairfax County ($2.6 billion)
Loudoun County ($1.5 billion)
Virginia Beach City ($1.2 billion)
Henrico County ($712.9 million)
Domestic Travel Expenditures in Virginia by Industry Sector - 2011
Source: The Economic Impact of Domestic Travel On Virginia Counties - 2011 (p.12)
Domestic Travel-Generated Employment in Virginia by Industry Sector - 2011
Source: The Economic Impact of Domestic Travel On Virginia Counties - 2011 (p.14)
Biggest category of spending by travelers was for food/drink, if "transportation" is split between automobiles and public transportation (air, bus, rail, boat/ship transportation, taxicab, and limousine service). Foodservice category generated over 80,000 jobs, and a much higher percentage of travel-related jobs (39%) than any other since restaurants are labor-intensive. In contrast, automobile travel spending included cost of gas, generating a big dollar number for domestic travel expenditures - but not many jobs in Virginia. According to a report generated for the Virginia Tourism Corporation:7
The same report determined how the different levels of government benefitted in tax revenues. For every dollar spent by domestic travelers in Virginia, 12.9 cents went to taxes. The Federal government collected 6.4 cents for individual and corporate income taxes, employment taxes, gasoline excise taxes, and airline ticket taxes. Virginia collected 3.8 cents in state tax receipts from state sales and excise taxes, and taxes on personal and corporate income. Local city/county governments collected 2.7 cents in local sales and property tax revenues.8
The "Virginia Is For Lovers" campaign returned in 2012, with installation of LOVE artwork (16' wide by 8' foot tall) at Welcome Centers on highways at traveling exhibits installed temporarily at visitor centers across the state.
Building a tourism campaign around the theme of love has its challenges. During the 150th anniversary of the Civil War ("sesquicentennial"), commemorating battles required some artful adjustment of the theme. The Fiscal Year 2012 marketing plan recognized that couples spend money, but there was more potential revenue in visits by families:9
Domestic Travel-Generated Tax Revenue in Virginia by Level of Government - 2011
Source: The Economic Impact of Domestic Travel On Virginia Counties - 2011 (p.20)
The Virginia Tourism Corporation controls the trademarked "Virginia Is For Lovers" logo. When an individual selling firearms-related items on eBay advertised "Virginia is for Gun Lovers," the state agency sued for trademark infringement. Though the initial $10,000 demand was lowered to $500 in the final settlement, the online retailer had to pay legal fees that cost him three months of profit.
At the end, he observed:10
In 2009, the slogan was added to the Madison Avenue Advertising Walk of Fame. In 2018, after Amazon chose to locate new offices in Northern Virginia, Governor Northam was able to repurpose the logo to "Virginia is for Amazon Lovers."11
when Virginia governors make major business recruitment announcements, they can use the Virginia Is for Lovers slogan
Source: Governor of Virginia, Governor Northam Announces Amazon Selects Virginia for Major New Corporate Headquarters
Aquia Church, in Stafford County