Na­ture gets the boot from Vir­ginia’s tourism pitch

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY LAURA VOZZELLA

rich­mond — Yes, Vir­ginia is for lovers, but is it still for dog­woods and car­di­nals?

The flow­er­ing tree was up­rooted and the bright red bird was rousted from its perch, as the state re­placed the big signs that greet trav­el­ers as they cross into the com­mon­wealth.

Just in time for the busy sum­mer travel sea­son, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) has swapped out about 100 bill­boards that stood along Vir­ginia highways for a decade or more. In­stead of the of­fi­cial state tree and bird, paired with “Vir­ginia Wel­comes You” or “Vir­ginia: Open for Busi­ness,” trav­el­ers see a big red heart on a black back­ground and the slo­gan: “Vir­ginia Is for Lovers.”

McAuliffe made the change in the name of con­sis­tent mar­ket­ing. Andhe can­make the case that tra­di­tion is on his side. The “Lovers” slo­gan has been around for 46 years — decades longer than the bird-and-blos­som mo­tif thought to date to be­fore Ge­orge Allen (R) was gover­nor in the 1990s — and it re­mains highly re­garded. Forbes has ranked it one of 10 best travel cam­paigns of all time, up there with Las Ve­gas’s “What Hap­pens Here, Stays Here.”

But the swap has ruf­fled some feath­ers. What the state touts as a “clean, mod­ern aes­thetic” strikes Allen as a “stark” re­place­ment for the “clean, nat­u­ral pleas­ant­ness” of the orig­i­nal car­di­nal and dog­wood de­sign.

“The new, stark look to the sign may have an ap­peal to some, but if you re­ally want to pro­mote the jobs in our Vir­ginia econ­omy, the sign should say, ‘Vir­ginia Is Open for Busi­ness’ with wel­com­ing col­ors,” Allen said in an e-mail to The Washington Post.

Some na­ture lovers fo­cused on the loss of the old sign’s bu­colic char­ac­ter. The new ones were posted at air­ports and ma­jor high­way en­try points around the state over the past six months, beat­ing the gover­nor’s July 4 dead­line. The cost was about $100,000.

“Oh, don’t say that. Oh, come on,” Lu Caval­laro, the just-re­tired pres­i­dent of Rich­mond’s Thomas Jef­fer­son Gar­den Club, said when told that the tree and bird had got­ten the boot.

The change was just the latest blow to her hus­band, Carl Caval­laro, who was pres­i­dent of the Men’s Gar­den Club of Vir­ginia un­til the group with­ered as “ev­ery­body died out.”

“I have lived all these years with the slo­gan ‘Vir­ginia Is for Lovers,’ and there’s noth­ing wrong with that,” said Caval­laro, a re­tired Vir­ginia Com­mon­wealth Univer­sity den­tistry pro­fes­sor. “But it’s not the same as hav­ing the essence of the tree and the bird.”

He was crit­i­cal of McAuliffe for re­plac­ing some­thing that con­veyed Vir­ginia’s nat­u­ral beauty with “a mar­ket­ing tool.”

“He’s not a na­tive Vir­ginian, that’s why,” Caval­laro said. “Ev­ery­thing is busi­ness.”

Of course, busi­ness is ex­actly what McAuliffe says he should fo­cus on as gover­nor of a de­fense heavy state that has been bleed­ing fed­eral jobs. He has made at­tract­ing new com­pa­nies and in­vestors the fo­cus of his gov­er­nor­ship and wrapped up his sixth for­eign trade mis­sion Fri­day.

It was an eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment trip to Asia last year that first put welcome signs on McAuliffe’s radar.

When he asked busi­ness and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials he met in Ja­pan, China and South Korea if they had been to the com­mon­wealth, they all said no.

“And he says, ‘Have you been to D.C.? How’d you get to D.C.? Dulles?’ ” McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy said. “Then he’s ob­vi­ously forced say, ‘You’ve to­tally been to Vir­ginia.’ ”

Washington Dulles In­ter­na­tional Air­port, while lo­cated in Vir­ginia, had no signs an­nounc­ing the lo­ca­tion to trav­el­ers. So McAuliffe or­dered some for the state’s seven largest air­ports and made smaller ver­sions avail­able to gen­eral avi­a­tion air­ports upon re­quest. While he was at it, he had about 100 high­way welcome signs re­placed.

Many of the ex­ist­ing signs were wear­ing out, with the re­flec­tive sheet­ing so de­graded that they were hard to read at night, Vir­ginia’s Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion said in a state­ment. And it made sense to McAuliffe to have the air­port and high­way signs match, with all of them bear­ing the “Vir­ginia Is for Lovers” slo­gan, Coy said.

“The gover­nor be­lieves in con­sis­tency across brand,” Coy said. “Long be­fore us and long af­ter us, ‘Vir­ginia Is for Lovers’ was the brand of this com­mon­wealth. And the gover­nor be­lieves in stick­ing by your brand.”

JOHN MCDON­NELL/THE WASHINGTON POST

JOHN MCDON­NELL/THE WASHINGTON POST

Gov. Ter­ryMcAuliffe (D) made the sig­nage change to have the air­port and high­way slo­gans match.

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