Virginia Tourism Corporation

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Virginia Tourism Corporation

901 East Byrd Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219-4048
Telephone: (804) 786-2052
Fax: (804) 786-1919
Web site:



Despite a limited budget, the Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC) had been a model promoter of state tourism for most of the second half of the twentieth century. In the late 1960s it began using the slogan "Virginia Is for Lovers," a phrase that became well known and served as the foundation for all VTC marketing campaigns that followed. It was still deemed relevant at the start of the new century. Virginia's tourism industry, like that of the rest of America, received a major blow when terrorists attacked New York and Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001, leading to a severe decline in travel. People looked to take shorter trips closer to home, and state tourism boards aggressively courted this business with a bevy of new slogans and increased ad spending. Virginia, on the other hand, cut its marketing budget for tourism and instead looked to make do with less by freshening up it venerable "Virginia Is for Lovers" slogan. The result was the "Meet Virginia" campaign, which sought to personify the state as a family friend. It began in February 2004.

"Meet Virginia," created by Virginia ad agency White & Baldacci (later renamed White & Partners) with a budget of about $2.5 million, primarily targeted mothers, who were the key decision makers in determining the destination of family vacations. Most of the campaign resources were devoted to print ads, which ran in more than a dozen national magazines. The ads portrayed different aspects of Virginia's personality. One execution said that "she" was "a breath of fresh air," accompanied by a picture of a woman standing atop a mountain. On the side were listed a number of destinations and outdoor activities in keeping with that ad's theme. The "Virginia Is for Lovers" slogan and logo were retained, anchoring a bottom corner of the full-page ads.

The "Meet Virginia" campaign succeeded in nearly tripling the number of requests for the state's official Virginia travel brochure. In addition, hotel bookings surged. The "Meet Virginia" theme was retained by the VTC, and the campaign was continued in 2005 and beyond. It also garnered national recognition, including an EFFIE Award, one of the top honors in the advertising industry.


Since the introduction of the slogan "Virginia Is for Lovers" in 1969, the Virginia Tourism Corporation was one of the most aggressive promoters of state tourism in the United States. Despite lacking the budgets of other locales, the VTC brought Virginia's tourist attractions to the attention of travelers around the world. It also benefited from its geographical location: about 55 percent of the U.S. population lived within 500 miles of the state. Travelers spent some $14 billion each year in Virginia and paid more than $1.8 billion in local and state taxes. Furthermore, well over 260,000 jobs in Virginia were tourism related.

Over the years the competition for travel dollars grew steadily, and then the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, caused a significant drop in international air travel, leading to more domestic trips. In addition, people were looking for trips that were shorter and closer to home. In the Northeast this led to even fiercer competition between tourism boards intent on capturing their share of this business. Many states increased advertising, leading to a blizzard of similar messages promoting sites of interests.

The VTC had the most recognizable travel slogan in the United States, but in the post-September 11 landscape it decided that "Virginia Is for Lovers" needed a little freshening up. In 2002 the VTC unveiled a series of three television spots offering an irreverent and somewhat literal spin on the venerable slogan. Each spot opened with the question "What comes to mind when you hear the slogan 'Virginia is for lovers?'" In the "Hotel" spot a bellhop introduced a puzzled family to a gaudy hotel love nest, complete with a heart-shaped bed and a neon lips sculpture. Also using a hotel setting, "Maids" showed a cleaning staff waiting in a hotel corridor, unable to work because from every door hung a "Do Not Disturb" placard. In the spot entitled "Beaches" a lover said, "I feel as if I've found my soul mate and best friend." The phrase was then echoed by countless other couples on the beach. The spots closed with a voice-over that stated, "It's easy to get the wrong impression." Viewers were then directed to a website,, where they could learn about Virginia tourist sites and "more than 100 ways to love Virginia."

In 2003 the state cut the tourism advertising budget by 40 percent and mandated that the VTC review the ideas of new advertising agencies and reassign the account. Moreover, the state developed a strategic plan that called for less emphasis on radio and television commercials and more on print ads in niche publications. Northern Virginia ad agency White & Baldacci (subsequently renamed White & Partners) won the VTC account in September 2003. It developed its own twist on the "Virginia Is for Lovers" theme with the "Meet Virginia" campaign, which was released in February 2004.


Surveys conducted by the VTC revealed a profile of Virginia tourists: 60 percent were college educated, more than half had household incomes in excess of $60,000, and their average household head was 54 years of age. The largest numbers came from nearby Washington, D.C. (11.5 percent), followed by New York City (7.8 percent), Baltimore (5.4 percent), Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina (5 percent), and Philadelphia (4.9 percent). Residents of Virginia itself were also a main source of visitors, and to a lesser degree the state attracted tourists from Atlanta; Pittsburgh; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Boston. To attract the family business in these markets, the "Meet Virginia" campaign specifically targeted the one person in the family most responsible for planning vacations: the mother. Hence, the target audience consisted of college-educated women between the ages of 25 and 54 who had at least one child under 18 years old. In addition, the family's household annual income would total at least $70,000. This composite person was kept in mind as the advertisements were crafted and the decisions were made about the most appropriate places to run them. White & Partners also made sure that the campaign did not neglect the interests of the rest of the family. While a woman was generally highlighted in an ad, family members were usually included in the background, and to attract the attention of husbands and children a variety of destinations and activities were featured.


The Virginia Tourism Corporation's longtime slogan, "Virginia Is for Lovers," was created in 1969 by Robin McLaughlin, a copywriter for the Martin Agency of Richmond, Virginia. It was first used, appropriately enough, in an ad that appeared in the March 1969 issue of Modern Bride.


Because so many families were taking shorter trips to nearby locations, Virginia competed against surrounding states. New York City was rebuilding its tourism business after experiencing a serious downturn in 2001, and the state of New York had been successfully exploiting its own well-known slogan, "I Love New York," since the 1970s. New Yorkers who might pay visits to Virginia were also tempted by the Native American casinos Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. Casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey, also competed for tourists from New York and Philadelphia. The state of Pennsylvania, which for years had exploited its slogan, "You've got a friend in Pennsylvania," also vied aggressively for travel business. With its historic sites, Philadelphia was a perennial tourist attraction, as was Lancaster County, 50 miles to the west, which offered Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch tourist attractions that were well marketed. Even Maryland, which had long neglected its tourism trade, was becoming more aggressive in promoting itself.

Closer to home was Washington, D.C., an international tourist attraction, but the capital served more as a compliment to Virginia tourism than competition, drawing tourists from around the world who might choose to spend some time and money in nearby Virginia. To the south Virginia had a rival in North Carolina, which offered mountain activities as well as coastal attractions. In addition, Orlando, Florida, home to Disney World and a number of other attractions, was only a short flight from Virginia's core markets, and Orlando commanded a larger tourism budget. Virginia's tourism budget was less than half of the $12 million that other states spent on average and a small fraction of the $550 million that 46 reporting states spent in 2003, according to the Travel Industry Association of America.


The underlying concept of the "Meet Virginia" campaign was to personify the state as a woman, someone that other women in particular would find appealing and want to know better. Within this framework Virginia's tourist attractions were portrayed as aspects of the character's personality. Media elements included a limited amount of television and radio advertising as well as some out-of-home ads (such as signage) and Internet advertising, but the anchor of the campaign was print advertising. Print ads ran in 15 national magazines, including National Geographic, Smithsonian, Southern Living, Better Homes & Gardens, Good Housekeeping, the New Yorker, Audubon, Bon Appétit, Reader's Digest, Travel & Leisure, and O: The Oprah Magazine. Specialty print ads were also produced for trade publications: ads aimed at groups were placed in such niche magazines as Group Tour Magazine and Leisure Group Travel; and an ad focusing on meetings ran in periodicals that included Association Management Magazine, Convene, and Convention South.

Each full-page print ad attempted to offer a different side of Virginia's personality, accompanied by a list of relevant tourist attractions and destinations. In one execution a female hiker was shown standing at the top of a mountain and taking in a glorious view. Superimposed in script over the large "Meet Virginia" headline was "She's a breath of fresh air." Addition text read, "With miles of awe-inspiring mountains and valleys to explore, the fresh air does more than fill your lungs. It also clears your mind." In the margin was a list of outdoor activities to consider, such as visiting Busch Gardens, Civil War Battlefields, and Shenandoah National Park. In a lower corner of the ad was the "Virginia Is for Lovers" slogan and a variation on its heart logo, thereby providing continuity with the state's long-term campaign theme.

Another print ad showed a female golfer celebrating a successful putt. The headline read, "She brings out the tiger in you." A number of golf courses and related attractions, such as the Virginia State Golf Association Museum, were highlighted in a sidebar. In another execution a family was shown buried in sand up to their heads, the headline reading, "She'll help you escape." Virginia Beach and other outdoor venues were highlighted to the side. Winter activities were addressed in an ad that featured a woman snowboarder, accompanied by the headline, "She doesn't believe in spectator sports." Yet another ad promoted the state's historic sites. It showed a picture from the American Revolution battle-field of Yorktown, with a family watching a colonial soldier firing a musket. The headline was "Kids think she's a blast."


The "Meet Virginia" campaign was so successful that the VTC continued it beyond 2004. The VTC's goal for the campaign was to generate about 100,000 requests for its annual "Virginia Travel Guide" vacation-planning brochure, but after just seven months it more than doubled that target, receiving 220,000 unique requests for the material. Another indicator of the campaign's effectiveness could be found in the state's hotel sector. According to "Virginia Tourism Monitor," a monthly research publication compiled by the VTC, during the first quarter of 2004 occupancy rates in the state were 8.7 percent higher than they had been during the first quarter of 2003. Moreover, this was nearly twice the national average increase of 4.4 percent, as tabulated by the Travel Industry Association of America.

The work done by White & Partners was also recognized by the advertising industry. "Meet Virginia" won a Bronze in the Travel/Tourism/Destination category of the 2005 EFFIE Awards, a highly prestigious competition produced by the New York American Marketing Association, a trade organization for marketing professionals. In addition, "Meet Virginia" was named the Best Overall Advertising Campaign at the 2004 Educational Seminar for Tourism Organization, an annual event hosted by the Travel Industry Association of America.


Coppola, Vincent. "Lighter Love Stories for Virginia." Adweek (southwest ed.), May 6, 2002, p. 7.

Dunham, Linda. "Virginia Tourism Official Enjoys Chance to Merge Passions: State, Literature." Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch, May 18, 2004.

Griswold, Alicia. "There's Less of Virginia Tourism to Love." Adweek (southeast ed.), June 10, 2003.

――――――. "Virginia Tourism Goes to White & Baldacci." Adweek (southeast ed.), September 16, 2003.

Scutt, Caroline. "State to Mark 25th Anniversary of 'Lovers' Tourism Theme." Travel Weekly, November 22, 1993, p. T23.

                                    Ed Dinger

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Virginia Tourism Corporation

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Virginia Tourism Corporation