It was just a little "Lovers" quarrel, and, as in true love itself, the flap seemed to be mostly a misunderstanding.

The Virginia Travel Council touched off several hours of high-level confusion and displeasure among state officials today after the influential tourist group said it wants the state to revive the slogan "Virginia Is For Lovers."

At a press conference, Parker Nelson, president of the group, said 58 percent of about 300 council members surveyed said they like the old slogan.

That prompted an anguished response from Commerce Secretary Betty Diener, who ceremoniously dumped "Lovers" last month in favor of another slogan, "These Are Exciting Times in Virginia," and is launching a $3 million national campaign to implant the new saying on the state's $3 billion tourist industry.

Diener called an impromptu press conference to criticize the council's position. But, after talking with George Stoddart, Robb's press secretary, things calmed down and Diener quickly canceled the event.

Then Gov. Charles S. Robb went ahead and authorized the state to send out fancy green packets emblazoned with the new slogan, complete with a tourism ditty to be used in the fall tourist season, to major businesses and members of the General Assembly.

Diener wrote a letter to Jim De Bellis, chairman of the tourism council and director of economic development for Virginia Beach, accepting his group's invitation to sit down with state officials next Friday.

Late in the day, Nelson said his group never intended to disparage the new slogan.

"We just want to keep the old slogan, too. They can use any one they want, but we want lovers to be the tag line. I think the reaction was unfortunate. We'll give the other one a chance to see how it does."

The state officially stopped using "Lovers" after marketing officials said it had been around since 1970 and had lost most of its punch.