Whether they take a road trip from Boston, like teenager Emily Ryan, or book a flight from England, like middle-aged Sue Catterall, Vampire Diaries fans flock to Covington's scenic square bringing their enthusiasm and money.
The Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce is retooling its tourism efforts, creating a more modern looking logo and brochure and increasing its advertising to play off the success of Covington's current hit TV show, Vampire Diaries.
"My time in Georgia was honestly one of the coolest things I have ever experienced," said Ryan in an e-mail. She and her father, Paul, drove from Boston to Covington. "I joke with my dad all the time, saying that I want to move to Covington. Well, I'm kind of kidding, not really. I didn't just stumble across the town while on vacation, though. After getting through an entire season of The Vampire Diaries, it was my mission to go to where they film."
More than 75 percent of Covington's tourists visit because they're fans of The Dukes of Hazzard, In the Heat of the Night or Vampire Diaries, said Tourism Director Clara Deemer. In 2008, the last year for which the chamber has reliable numbers, tourists spent $77 million in Newton County, creating $2.35 million in county sales tax revenue, according to the tourism division of the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
And tourism numbers are up this year, as 1,492 people came though Newton County's Visitor Center in October 2010, a nearly 24 percent increase from October 2009.
"People come to see the movie tours," Deemer said. "But when they're here they also take our self-guided home tours. It's reminiscent of times before."
Catterall was one of those new October visitors who toured both the movie and home scenes, adding Covington to a tour that included Bella Vista, Arkansas and Graceland.
"The square is beautiful, with the clock tower and the shops and the park in the middle. It was so unlike any other place we had visited in the U.S.A. and in some ways reminded us of the U.K. We felt very relaxed and at ease and everyone we met was very friendly and welcoming," she said in a recent e-mail to The News, noting she hopes to return next year.
"It was also amazing that Covington seemed to just be getting on with everyday life and not allowing the film crews and presumably large numbers of fans of the show to interrupt daily life when they are in town."
That duplicity is what makes Covington special, Deemer said, and heavily influenced the chamber's new tourism logo, tagline, brochure and website, gocovington.com.
"We had the same logo for years. It was probably the same as the first one we created. This is a new fresh look," Deemer said. "We can't be cutting edge modern, but this is updating what we've already had.
"We don't want to be hum drum, but people can still sit down on a rocking chair and buy a scoop of ice cream and a cup of coffee and watch the world go by."
In addition to rebranding tourism, the chamber has joined four regional motorcoach associations and will be a stop on the tours offered by members of those groups.
The chamber also increased advertising, taking out an ad in the versions of Southern Living magazine published in other states. Deemer hopes to capture more out of state visitors. Tourists from 17 states stopped by the visitor's center in October. The chamber also took out a half page ad in the state's main publication, the Georgia Travel Guide.
When the travelers come to Covington, Deemer is working to make sure the city is ready for them. She recently formed a hoteliers committee, comprised of the owners of the eight hotels in Covington, to share best practices and ideas for increasing occupancy.
Deemer's goal is to get those hotels up to 100 percent occupancy rates on a regular basis, because hotels not only bring significant sales tax dollars to Covington, but also pay a separate 8 percent hotel/motel tax which funds local tourism efforts.
"Day trips are nice, but we're really looking for those overnighters. They spend more, and we need to make sure they are as happy as they can be while they're here," she said. "We don't have to provide any (municipal) services for them. These are clean tax dollars. This is what tourism is all about."
If Deemer does her job right she'll have more visitors like Mary Carter. The New Hampshire resident traveled to New Orleans with her two teenage daughters, Jamie and Shelby, and hit Covington on the way back home in July.
"We enjoyed our time so much that we returned for a quick visit in August," Carter said in an e-mail. "Perhaps we are correct in assuming we are the only New Hampshire folk to have dined at R.L's Off the Square three times this past summer."