Tourism increases in 2011

COVINGTON -- The number of tourists visiting Newton County increased by 47 percent in 2011, thanks primarily to filming of "The Vampire Diaries," according to sources at the Newton County Convention and Visitors Center.

The number of visitors increased from 13,000 in 2010 to more than 19,000 in 2011, based on data provided by Tourism Director Clara Deemer and Assistant Tourism Director Ron Carter.

"The 47 percent increase is primarily due to the increased number of visitors for 'The Vampire Diaries,'" Deemer and Carter stated in an email response they jointly prepared. "A large number of these guests are staying in our hotels, eating in our restaurants and shopping here in Covington."

Covington has been the setting for fictional Mystic Falls, Va., since 2009, and fans have trekked here from all over the globe to see stars of the show and the filming locations.

Tourists representing 46 states and 28 countries visited Covington last year, from as far away as Australia, Iceland, Russia, New Zealand and China.

Spikes in tourism were noted in March and October, when EyeCon, a convention for fans of the show, was held in Atlanta, Deemer and Carter said.

The number of tourists is tracked by an electronic counting device located in the Visitor Center, as well as a visitor log where they document the reason for their visit and report their home state or country.

Given the popularity of Covington as a filming location, the Visitors Center has trademarked the slogan "Hollywood of the South," which it has used in the past, at the suggestion of 2011 Chamber of Commerce Board Chair Scott Willis, who had seen it used by another community.

"By obtaining the trademark, we will have the exclusive, legal right to use it in future marketing materials," Deemer and Carter said in their joint statement.

In 2012, the strategy for marketing Covington and Newton County as a tourist destination will shift from printed materials to informational/social media outlets, including Facebook and Twitter, they said. A new tourism website is in the works, and an ad has been placed in the 2012 Georgia Travel Guide, part of the Georgia Department of Economic Development's strategy for boosting travel to the state.

About 750,000 copies of the travel guide will be distributed to Georgia visitor centers and mailed to people requesting them.

The country music trio Lady Antebellum is featured on the cover of the just-released guide, which has an interview with the group's members discussing their favorite spots to visit in the state.