COVINGTON, Ga. — Covington’s new Welcome Center opened on Monday, April 19. The center, which was originally in the Chamber of Commerce, is now located on 1143 Oak St. SE. It is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.
The new center is nearly three times the size of the original space. This has allowed for the addition of a Film and History museum, which was made possible through collaboration with the Historical Society.
The museum includes memorabilia from the popular TV shows and movies filmed in the Covington area, such as fan favorites “The Vampire Diaries” and “The Originals,” as well as the classic hits “The Dukes of Hazzard” and “In the Heat of the Night.”
Welcome Center Coordinator Ron Carter said the addition of the museum was necessary, considering the amount of tourists drawn to the area because of its film history.
“We have people coming in on a weekly basis for ‘Dukes of Hazard’ and ‘In the Heat of the Night,’ but most definitely the biggest influx of people is going to be your ‘Vampire Diaries’ and 'The Originals,’” Carter said. “We say that film tourism is kind of the highlight of what we can do here. We also offer recreational tourism, cultural tourism and historical tourism, but film is our kind of bread and butter, so to speak.”
Before the pandemic, Carter said that the city generally averaged about 40,000 to 45,000 visitors a year.
“Of those, I would say conservatively 75- to 80% of those would be film tourists, and of that 75- to 80%, probably 80% are ‘Vampire Diaries’ tourists,” Carter said. “That’s why we focus so much space to ‘The Vampire Diaries’ and ‘The Originals’ right now.”
The center is also part of a collaborative called “Treasures along I-20,” which provides travelers a guide to cities along I-20, including Conyers, Covington, Social Circle, Rutledge, Madison and Greensboro.
Carter said that in the past couple of years, Covington has become an even more attractive place for visitors.
“We have found that here in Covington we are now becoming the destination place where people come to stay for six and seven days, versus the overnight stays we used to have,” Carter said. “ … This is like their hub. They’re going into Atlanta for the day, like to the aquarium for the day, and then coming back here and having dinner and staying in our hotels, so that’s a good thing for us.”
The city of Covington’s original Facebook post on April 19 announcing the opening of the Welcome Center stated that the center would require masks and place a limit of 15 visitors inside at one time. While Carter said the center would continue to uphold the mask requirement, they would be more lenient on the visitor limit.
“We actually had almost 30 people in this morning with a tour, and they were able to socially distance,” Carter said. “So we’re not going to be as stringent as limiting people as coming in. We’re going to kind of play it by ear, and if we feel it’s too many we will have them wait outside.”