Robert F. McDonnell and Maureen Gardner McDonnell: A Virginia Moment

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It was America’s first colony way back in 1607 and the American state that has produced the maximum number of US presidents. Virginia’s political history aside, it is also home to the longest commercial beach in America and was voted one of the top five new wine destinations in the world. For those who love wine tours, jaw-dropping landscapes and a dose of good old-fashioned American culture, the governor Robert F. McDonnell, and first lady Maureen Gardner McDonnell have plenty of arguments to offer. In India recently to promote wine tourism and business between Virginia and India, we caught up with the power couple.

How has your India experience been?

Maureen McDonnell: It is a great pleasure to be with you here in India. We have been welcomed very warmly everywhere. We want to see more businesses from your country to expand in Virginia and we wanted to be here personally to invite the people of India, to visit our beautiful state.

Why the slogan, ‘Virginia is for Lovers’?

Maureen McDonnell: Part of the mystique of the slogan, which was created in 1969, is that it has meant many things to different people. Today, you can discover love for Virginia’s mountains, beaches, history, theme parks, vibrant cities, outdoor activities, sports and hospitality. Savour a fine meal at a five-star restaurant or quaint small town diner. Walk through the vineyard and enjoy a tasting at one of Virginia’s hundreds of wineries. Make your way through a hip shopping district or along the streets of a small town. Relax and luxuriate and a legendary country inn. Virginia is for everyone!

How does Virginia score as a tourism destination?

Maureen McDonnell: Location, connectivity, weather, professional expertise, wide choice of venues, and options of a variety of activities. We have eleven commercial airports and the weather is nothing short of ideal – not too hot, not too cold, and more often than not, just right. Virginia offers diverse landscapes from Atlantic Ocean to the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, four centuries of architecture from pre-colonial to modern twenty-first century, from vibrant city centres to sparkling nature retreats. Tourists have a wide selection.

Virginia is also known for its eco-friendly practices…

Robert F McDonnell: Yes, they have been recognised as ‘Virginia Green’. Eco-friendly in their energy and water conservation, as well as recycling efforts, these facilities are paving the way for a green revolution in tourism.

Tell us about wine tourism in Virginia.

Maureen McDonnell: Thomas Jefferson is regarded as the Father of American wine as he brought grapes from Europe to plant at his estate of Monticello. And now Virginia boasts the fifth largest wine production in the US with more than 200 wineries open year round for touring and tasting. I recently planted ten Chambourcin grapevines in the garden of the Executive Mansion during Wine Week 2011 following the path of the original charter of Jamestown Virginia’s Act 12 of 1619 that required every male settler to plant at least ten grape vines. I hope these vines will be flourishing at the time of the Executive Mansion’s 200th year anniversary in 2013.

You have been in India for a week. What are your plans for the India market?

Robert F McDonnell: India offers a huge opportunity for leisure, wine tourism, destination weddings, film shoots and the MICE segment. Our efforts would be to work with travel professionals, wedding planners, Indian film producers and directors and everyone else to position Virginia in India. (As an aside, Steven Spielberg is currently filming Lincoln in Richmond, Virginia. Its release is expected in 2012.) Virginia offers endless opportunities for travel professionals and their groups to find and experience their passion, from delicious cuisine, antiquing, spas, natural birding and outdoor trails, emotional heritage experiences, to bountiful music and festivals.

What kind of businesses would you like to invite from India?

Robert F McDonnell: Any businesses that can bring jobs into Virginia. Our focus is more on technology, life sciences, manufacturing and communication. There is plenty of business for everybody to have. We have the second highest number of technology workers, next only to California. We are strong in fields such as communication, high tech and information technology (IT), and our visit to Bangalore is to attract businesses from these sectors. We are talking to companies such as QuEST, Essar, Infosys, Wipro and Mahindra, who already have some kinds of operations in Virginia.

Do you have any law prohibiting outsourcing or is there anything on the anvil?

Robert F McDonnell: Outsourcing had always been controversial. We don’t have a law that encourages or prohibits outsourcing. Private sector companies decide whether they want to go offshore or not. I believe in free and fare trade. We are not promoting any particular protectionist policy. There is a general consensus that Americans would like to do as much as they can to create jobs.

What is your opinion about the opportunities in India?

Robert F McDonnell: India is an emerging nation with credibly bright industries. People are very good in technology areas. Being a democracy, I believe things can be done here in a much quicker way. India offers immense opportunity for the US.

First published in Atelier magazine

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