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Chamber seeks new tourism director
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The chamber is aggressively courting the film industry, but the task of bringing more films and more tourists to town will fall to a new tourism director, as Clara Deemer is retiring after 10 years.

Deemer has led the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce through its increased emphasis on tying tourism to the burgeoning film industry in Georgia, and the next director will be asked to build on that progress.

“We want to leverage all the film tourism globally,” said Chamber President Hunter Hall. “We know that they are already coming — (visitors came from) 33 countries globally last year — and we just want to increase the global awareness and numbers that come. That is why you will see a stronger emphasis on the tourism director having a strong marketing focus.”

Tourism revenue is viewed by the chamber as one of the best and most efficient sources of revenue, because it comes without the community having to provide services such as those needed by residents and businesses.

Trademarking “Hollywood of the South,” creating the Covington Walk of Stars and partnering with Mystic Falls Tours, the company that provides tours of “The Vampire Diaries” filming sites, have all been steps designed to position Newton County as a tourist destination for tens of thousands of travelers yearly.

The increased marketing emphasis Hall is talking about refers to a county-wide branding plan that the tourism director will be responsible for overseeing. According to the job description, the director will be responsible for seeking a qualified firm to create a branding strategy and help to formulate and implement that strategy.

Hall hopes to have a new tourism director hired by mid-to-late May. He told his board of directors last week that several good resumes have been submitted, mentioning one local candidate with an excellent corporate background. Hall said this week applications are no longer being accepted.

Hall said the new director must be able to manage all three of the chamber’s brands — traditional small business, tourism and economic development (including attracting filming projects).

While Hall is responsible for the hire, Dan Murphy with Bridgestone and Michelle Bryant-Johnson, with the Arts Association in Newton County, who both have marketing backgrounds, will review the applications.

The success of the position will be measured through hotel/motel tax revenues and the total number of registered visitors passing through the Covington/Newton County Visitors Center.

Chamber board chairman Paul Murphy, with C.R. Bard, said some candidates also might be suited to serve as office manager at the chamber, handling daily supervisory issues to free up Hall to handle other duties. The board agreed with the structure if the right candidate is found.

Board member Hilary Edgar said former chamber employee Shannon Davis used to informally handle those duties.
Deemer will retiree May 31, but she will continue to work part-time in a “minor capacity to assist with location scouts” that are looking for specific filming locations in the area. That work will be made easier by the chamber’s new tourism website, which has an “On Location” section designed to help location scouts easily and quickly find and digitally view scenic locations in the county.

“Clara has been an absolutely outstanding tourism director. The amount of tax dollars that she has helped generate over her 10 years is incredible, and we as a community are fortunate to have had her,” Hall said. “In many ways, she has leveraged the film and TV tourism dollars and created an entire revenue stream for the county and city tax digest, and all the citizens have benefited as a result.”

Tourism’s budget was $222,734.85 last year, with all of that money coming from hotel/motel taxes. The chamber receives a total of 4.5 percent of all hotel/motel tax revenue — the hotel/motel tax rate is 8 percent.

The remaining money is split between Main Street Covington, which is in charge of promoting downtown Covington, and special projects chosen by the Covington City Council. All hotels are in the Covington city limits.