Report: Tourism brings big bucks to Newton

COVINGTON -- Danny Whitler recently drove his family of four from Kentucky, where they had been visiting relatives, to Newton County. Wife Amy is a fan of "The Vampire Diaries" and the couple was impressed with some of the locations they saw on the show and wondered where it was filmed. A bit of Internet research and they discovered the city of Covington and decided to make a two-day trip.

Once they got here, they discovered this is also where "In the Heat of the Night," 10-year-old daughter Kailey's favorite show, was filmed, as well as five episodes of "The Dukes of Hazzard," a favorite of teenage son Canaan.

The family was at the unveiling of the Walk of Stars downtown on Nov. 15, where Kailey had her picture taken with Grady Spradley, Carroll O' Conner's double for "In the Heat of the Night."

The family is from Fort Worth, Texas, an eight-hour drive from Newton County, but they so enjoyed their visit Danny Whitler said they'd be back in three weeks with more family members in tow.

"We love it here. The people and the atmosphere here are spectacular," he said.

The Whitlers are part of a growing contingent of "The Vampire Diaries" fans who are coming to Covington to visit filming locations and finding more to keep them coming back.

Officials with the Chamber of Commerce, local business owners and a woman who owns a tour company that takes visitors to filming locations of "The Vampire Diaries" all report visitors are coming from as far as Australia and Japan to Covington because of the series, and many, once they get here and experience the local flavor, are extending their stay, making multiple trips, or, in the case of a woman from Italy, moving here.

These visits are having a big impact on the local economy, according to the "2011 Tourism Economic Fact Sheet" generated through the Southeast Tourism Society.

Tourist spending in Newton County spiked more than 10 percent in 2011 compared to 2010, according to the report.

Direct tourist spending in the county generated $100.1 million in 2011, according to the report. Dr. Steve Morse, an economist with the Southeast Tourism Society and at the University of Tennessee, said a tourist is defined as anyone who lives 35 miles or more outside of Newton County. Morse said the report is based on data provided by the Georgia Department of Revenue and surveys of tourists throughout the state about their spending patterns. An economic model is applied to estimate how much money is generated by tourists.

For example, it's assumed that tourists account for 20 percent of every dollar spent at local restaurants, with 80 percent generated by locals. That number could be reversed in areas that are hot tourist spots, like Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge, Tenn. It's assumed that tourists account for about 95 percent of hotel revenues, to give another example. The model applied to the Newton County study is used by 38 states and hundreds of counties, Morse said.

"While it's easy to figure out the money spent, we don't have a turnstile as to how many tourists visit the county," he said.

According to the report, tourism produced $18.9 million in worker income and paychecks in 2011. That accounts for local people earning paychecks as a result of tourism spending, right down to gas station workers, said Morse. An estimated 990 jobs were generated by tourism. That number was based on Bureau of Labor statistics and the estimated amount of money it takes to create one job -- in the Southeast, that's about $85,000, Morse said.

The report also states that tourism created $2.95 million in local county tax revenues, and generated more than $8,000 in local county tax revenues per day, resulting in each household paying $178 less in local and state taxes. Morse said the tax revenues generated take into account taxes paid by businesses, including hotel occupancy taxes, and the percentage of those business taxes estimated to be paid through tourist expenditures at those businesses.

Tourist spending in the state from 2010 to 2011 is estimated to have increased 8.6 percent, versus the 10.1 percent in Newton. "For a county your size, you are growing at a faster pace than a lot of counties, even during the recession," Morse said.

He attributed much of that to "film-induced tourism."

"Covington and Newton County has the added emphasis of the film industry. I would say that the film and movie industry -- 'The Vampire Diaries,' 'In the Heat of the Night' -- has added a special element to your county," he said.

Morse said Newton County and the city of Covington have done "fantastic marketing" to exploit the film-induced tourism industry and draw fans of films and TV series filmed here.

"Tourism not only does a lot for quality of life in Newton County but it's putting it on the radar and the map and it's a lot of the local economy. A lot of people may not understand the tremendous impact it has on creating taxes and jobs," Morse said.


Ophelia 1 year, 5 months ago

$100.1 million tourist spending in 2011? Really? Could these figures be slightly inflated as a means to belittle the filming complaints of long-time citizens and unhappy business owners? Let us all bow down to the almighty dollar...


Ophelia 1 year, 5 months ago

Umm, just noticed that there is a link to another article published 03/12/12 that states that tourist spent only $2.8 million in Newton County last year. How is it that one article says $2.8 million and this article says $100.1 million in tourist spending? That is a significant difference...


John 1 year, 5 months ago

Another hard to believe statement in this article is that from Ft. Worth Texas to Newton County is an 8 hour ride. We drive I-20 to Mineral Wells, Texas (about 45 minutes from Ft. Worth) and it is all of a 14 hour ride. Your butt gets real numb at the 8 hour point - almost to Monroe, Louisiana. Then you loose almost all feeling near Dallas, TX. Drive it at posted speed + 10 MPH all the way. But on the other hand maybe they thought they were visiting Newton County, MS and that's about 8 hours from Ft. Worth, TX.


Billy 1 year, 4 months ago

Be sure to let the tourists know about all the trashy properties around Lake Jackson. I'm surprised it's not the junkyard capital of the world. The only thing I want to know is exactly where The Dukes of Hazzard was filmed and I live here. Other than that, not sure why someone would come from another state to see Newton. It's just a hodge podge of subdivisions with a large amount of residents who collect trash in their yards...


John 1 year, 4 months ago

Billy, If you don't like Newton County, it does have roads that lead out to an area that better suits "your" needs. I have been all around Jackson Lake and there are very many nice homes on the lake, no they are not Reynolds Plantation class but yet very nice - small, medium & large size homes alike. Yes, there are some that need up keep but not "All" as you say. Yes, there are some people(owners & renters alike) that don't keep their homes up but you will find that most anywhere. If all you want out of life is to find where the Dukes was filmed, do a Google search - you find that it was filmed in more than one location - Atlanta, Conyers, Oxford, Covington, several locations in California and you can find what streets & roads, etc it was filmed on. Then you will have no other things to wish for or want to know - then you can just "hang up the spurs" and watch "Gun Smoke" reruns. PS: There is no "Utopia"!


henrystamm 1 year, 4 months ago

We moved to Newton County for the privacy and little government interference. For those that think that some areas are trashy I say they represent the freedom of the residents. If you are one of those that want more government interference, move to Gwinnett County and pay their exoberant taxes that are being wasted by that corrupt government. People that want to control the people stay there.


John 1 year, 4 months ago

That freedom of being a trashy resident you speak of does have a direct affect on ALL the others property values in the neighborhood. Also that freedom exhibits their lack of self pride/esteem and the total lack of respect they have for others. But if you don't agree post your address and I'll direct them to your neighborhood.


will 1 year, 4 months ago

35 miles outside of Newton county and your a tourist, thats a commuter. $100.1 million, im calling bull on that figure, prove it with some figures. I did not know I was a tourist when I went to Athens or Atlanta. Once the people from Kentucky got here they realized Atlanta was just a short drive away because there is not much to do in Newton county. I bet they ate at Waffle House, went to Walkers Bend to see where our new community center is going, rode out to West Newton to see all the beauty, took a ride down Salem Rd., and finished up at Stalveys for dinner. After dinner maybe they went to Walmart to see the scene for many purse snatchings and car jackings. No visit would be complete without a visit to the infamous Alcovy High School.


John 1 year, 4 months ago

I agree Will, sounds like job & purpose justification from here. Most anything can be justified by number manipulation and making a lot of ASSUMPTIONS and leaving out key (hidden) facts. Sorta' like the economic justification presented to the public for the C of C/NC CNG fuel project. As one person said, if CNG was such a great deal why wouldn't the largest supplier of natural gas encourage the development of a more efficient & less costly CNG fast fill stations and car/truck manufacturers bring a economical car/truck to market. That supplier is called Exxon & they already have a network of pipelines in the ground and have a long history back to Rockefeller of liking to make money


RV30015 1 year, 4 months ago

Project Dove just flew away. I bet Alcovy High did not help. If Baxter or Dove types think living in east newton routes them to Alcovy they will move elsewhere.


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