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Tourism boosted by TV, films

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

COVINGTON -- Tourism Director Clara Deemer had good news to report to the Covington City Council on Monday night.

"I just want to tell you tourism is alive and well in Newton County," Deemer said. There has been a 25 percent increase in the number of visitors to the Covington-Newton County Convention Visitors Center from January to October 2009 for the same time period in 2010, Deemer said.

Deemer attributes the increase in visitors largely to the popularity of "The Vampire Diaries," the television show that has been filming in Covington for the past year and a half.

"We're getting visitors right and left because of 'The Vampire Diaries,'" Deemer said, noting that young girls are taking car trips from California to Covington because of the show.

About 75 percent of visitors to Newton County come to see film locations, including sites featured in "The Dukes of Hazzard" and "In the Heat of the Night," Deemer said.

Thanks to a recent increase in the hotel/motel tax, Deemer is also in a better position to market the community to attract even more visitors. The City Council approved an increase of the hotel/motel tax from 5 to 8 percent, and collections began in April. The tourism division of the Chamber of Commerce receives half of that additional 3 percent. The opening in late 2009 of the new Hampton Inn also boosted hotel/motel tax revenues, Deemer said.

"For the first time in eight years, we have funding to market outside the state," she said. Deemer is focused on getting more overnight guests. There are plenty of hotel rooms to support that effort. Covington boasts eight hotels with 525 rooms and one bed-and-breakfast.

"We need more heads in beds; that's what supports tourism," she said.

To that end, the tourism division has joined four motor coach associations -- in Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and the South Central Association covering the states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas -- to gain access to meetings and conventions and provide information on the community.

"The more we can be visible to the motor coach people, the more we can entice them to come to us," Deemer said.

Other marketing efforts include purchasing an ad in Southern Living magazine for publication in the Kentucky, Mississippi and midwest market areas.

The tourism division also has a new website, www.gocovington.com, which features information about film locations, historic sites, shopping, dining and other amenities in the area. There's also a new multi-colored logo featuring the historic courthouse with the sun shining brightly overhead and a new tag line pronouncing Covington "A Refreshing Change of Place." Finally, a new brochure has been designed and distributed at all state visitor's centers and 46 regional visitors centers.