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Tourism spending down
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Steve Morse, economist and director of the University of Tennessee’s Tourism Institute, used a statistical model to estimate visitor spending in Newton County in 2009. The model assumed that 100 percent of hotel revenues come from tourists, while only 20 percent of restaurant sales come from visitors.

Raw spending numbers are first compiled by the U.S. Travel Association, which released its numbers in August.

Like the rest of the economy, tourism was down in Newton County in 2009, but visitors still spent an estimated $72.75 million with local merchants.

Tourist spending declined by $4.25 million, or 5.5 percent, from 2008, the county’s best year for tourism, according to a study by the University of Tennessee. Statewide, tourism decline 7.75 percent.

Tourism is an important part of the county’s economy, impacting 900 jobs, and generating $16.09 million in worker income and $2.27 million in local tax revenue in 2009, according to Steve Morse, economist and director of the University of Tennessee’s Tourism Institute.


Morse said the county has done well in making the most of its Hollywood connection.

"Anytime a town makes a contract with a filmmaker to be included in a show or movie, that always draws attention. The key is what to do after it comes there. How do you market your town? A lot of towns have not followed up with great strategies, and a lot have," Morse said. "Newton County has a tremendous amount of TV business and movie business; I think they’ve capitalized."

Several local residents have started tour companies to offer "Vampire Diaries" site tours, and local restaurants, construction workers and moving companies have also benefited from the show’s presence.

While Newton County continues to be considered a top location by filming companies, Deemer said she’s seen a sharp increase in competition even during the past couple of months. State officials are working to increase film friendliness in counties around Georgia.

Even with the increased competition, 2010 has been a better year for Newton County, as it saw increased visitor numbers, according to Deemer.

Tourism is Georgia’s second leading industry, generating $34 billion a year, a number state officials hope to grow by an additional $1 billion each year until 2020. In Newton County, tourism and hospitality has been the fastest-growing sector of the economy during the past decade, accounting for 11.4 percent of local jobs, up from 8.9 percent in 2000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Chamber Tourism Director Clara Deemer said previously that more than 75 percent of the county’s visitors come to visit sites shown in television series that were filmed here, "The Dukes of Hazzard", "In the Heat of the Night" or "The Vampire Diaries."