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Virginia Tourism Corp. marketing to Generation X

Virginia tourism agency plans to market the ‘lovers’ slogan to younger families

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Print this page by Donna C. Gregory

The state’s 40-year romance with the baby boomer generation is waning. The Virginia Tourism Corp., best known for its enduring “Virginia is for Lovers” campaign, is wooing a new audience: Generation X.  They’re younger (ages 27 to 44), more adventuresome and spend more money on travel in Virginia. 

According to a recent survey by TNS TravelsAmerica,  Gen X travelers visiting the Old Dominion from anywhere in the country spend 13 percent more on travel during the course of a year than older baby boomers. On a per-trip basis to the state’s primary markets, these travelers spent $333 — 18 percent more than the average for these markets.

“We feel this is where we’re going to get the biggest return on investment. They’re our new travelers,” says Alisa Bailey, CEO and president of VTC, the state’s tourism arm.

Consequently, VTC, is retooling its “lovers” theme with a new marketing campaign based on feedback from the national TNS survey, to which VTC subscribes.  Powering the shift is this interesting fact: Generation X households contribute about 45 percent of the total travel spending in Virginia. In 2008, domestic travelers spent $19.2 billion, according to the VTC.

Many Gen X visitors come with children in tow, which bumps up spending.  Typically, travel parties with children generate 50 percent more in tourism revenue for the state than groups without children. 

Most boomers are done or almost done with child-rearing. Plus, they tend to consider exotic travel locations farther from home. And with this year’s recession depressing the values of stock market and 401(k) accounts, many boomers have pulled back on discretionary spending.  “We’re not going to capture them as a new traveler. The boomers are looking for their bucket list,” says Bailey.
Meanwhile, “the Gen X’ers are new families who need new experiences close to home. They want beaches, good places to relax, warm, friendly people. They love amusement and theme parks, and they want places that are good for what we call soft adventure, like canoeing, hiking.”

So, how will the state tweak its iconic brand? The agency celebrated the 40th anniversary of “Virginia is for Lovers” last year. Launched during a time of love-ins, peace demonstrations and Woodstock, the campaign initially targeted younger consumers, promoting Virginia as a place of excitement and passion.

As the decades passed, the lovers theme evolved from a slogan into an international brand.  Forbes.com named it one of the top 10 tourism marketing campaigns of all time last July. “Virginia is for Lovers” also was inducted into the National Advertising Walk of Fame last year, beating out other well-known taglines including Nike’s “Just Do It” and MTV’s “I Want My MTV.”

Don’t worry; the slogan won’t change.  “What will change,” explains Bailey, “is our strategy toward the younger market. We will be showing more Gen X families in our marketing. It will be a more family-oriented campaign.”

VTC is operating at 1997 funding levels because of state budget cuts, so there’s no money for a slick, splashy advertising campaign. “We only have so much money to spend, so we have to be very smart about how we communicate,” notes Bailey. “The good news is Gen X’ers tend to use social media much more than baby boomers, and that’s very inexpensive.”

VTC plans to use Facebook, Twitter and blogs to help reach Gen X households. Staff also will be hawking story ideas to Gen X media outlets, hoping for some free press.

Members of the Virginia Hospitality & Travel Association were briefed on VTC’s plans last fall. “As far as our members, they will have to look at their own marketing plans now,” said Barry Hawkins, executive director.

Changing up the “Virginia is for Lovers” audience makes sense to Linda Stanier, communications director for the Greater Williamsburg Chamber & Tourism Alliance. “[VTC’s] findings validate our strategy of targeting households with children,” she says. “Williamsburg will continue to reach family travelers through a strategic mix of television and online advertising, Web initiatives and public relations. We will highlight the fun and interactive experiences that are abundant here and that the research shows are especially appealing to Gen X parents and their children.”

Some localities are already looking to piggyback on VTC’s efforts. “We try to partner with Virginia Tourism as much as we can,” says Sheryl Wagner, director of tourism for the Staunton Convention & Visitors Bureau. “In Staunton, we had already started to tweak our message [to highlight] live music, theater … just things younger families might want to do. The research they showed us just reiterated what we were already seeing.”

The visitors’ bureau will participate in an upcoming environmentally friendly family giveaway promotion with VTC, including a stay at Staunton’s Stonewall Jackson Hotel (a green hotel), admission to the Frontier Culture Museum and a “green” toy from Pufferbellies Toys & Books.

“We are seeing this recession as an opportunity to fish where the fish are,” says Bailey. “People are traveling closer to home, and they want value. For Virginia, if we invest properly in good marketing, we can capture [the Gen X’ers] now while they are staying closer to home.’’ 


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