Nature gets the boot from Virginia’s tourism pitch
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.”
Gov. TerryMcAuliffe (D) made the signage change to have the airport and highway slogans match.