A Lincolnton native has found big business with offering an inside look at the filming sites of a popular movie made in Western North Carolina.
In May of 2012, not even two months after the theatrical release of “The Hunger Games” movie adaptation, Jeff Coffey, an East Lincoln High School graduate, launched The Hunger Tours with his wife, Anna Marie.
A little over a year later, the couple, which resides in Asheville, is experiencing the busiest month yet for the tour company.
“We thought it would slow down after a few months, but we broke our own record in April 2013,” Jeff Coffey said. “May beat April, June beat May, and now July 2013 is our biggest month ever. We are booked into Thanksgiving week.”
Last year, he said, the wintertime months were big for the company, which is now averaging three tours a week compared to three tours total the first month it opened.
Tour-goers are treated to an extensive look at the various sites where the much-buzzed-about film — based on the first book in Suzanne Collins’ best-selling young-adult trilogy, set in a dystopian North America — shot scenes in 2011, including in Asheville, Shelby, Hildebran and Charlotte.
The Coffeys lead five different tours, at various lengths and costs, that take fans to the sites of many of the movie’s most memorable scenes. These include hikes in DuPont State Forest in the mountains, as well as visits to Henry River Mill Village in Burke County and parts of Shelby, both of which filled in for the hometown of the book’s heroine, Katniss Everdeen.
No matter what tour participants sign up for, they all start in downtown Asheville.
“We show our guests where the stars stayed, ate and hung out while filming,” Coffey said.
The Coffeys also have on hand some of the props used in the film, which, along with side stories and anecdotes from behind the scenes that they have learned along the way, are shared with tour-goers. A round of trivia on “The Hunger Games” is also used to test fans’ knowledge of the book and movie.
Their most popular tour lasts seven or eight hours, with their “See It All Tour” taking place over the course of two days. Tours are offered Mondays through Saturdays.
While Coffey said all of their customers are “huge” fans of “The Hunger Games,” that’s about all they may have in common.
“We have toured people from ages 6 to 65, from 37 states and six countries,” he said. “We have had as few as two and as many as 34 on a tour.”
The couple was even asked by the N.C. Department of Commerce, Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development, to give a tour to a visiting journalist from the United Kingdom.
Much time and preparation went into starting up The Hunger Tours. The couple, whose children, like them, are big fans of the books, decided to research the exact locations where the movie was filmed after seeing it in theaters last year.
“It honestly took us about 300 hours of hiking, interviewing, emailing, phone calls and research to find out all of the information we now have,” Coffey said. “Soon after we discovered where the scenes were shot, many tourists in Asheville were asking where the movie was filmed. That’s when we decided people might be interested in seeing the scenes, and there was no way they would find most of them without us.”
Despite the success of their business, they have yet to hire any additional help.
“We thought about (hiring other employees) because we are doing so many, but we decided against it,” he said. “People plan their entire vacations around our tours. We want to make sure our guests get their money’s worth, and the only way to do that is to do it ourselves.”
“One other drawback is that we worked many hours to learn what we know and want to protect that information,” he added.
Nonetheless, the couple, who also owns a commercial-cleaning company that operates in North and South Carolina, has plans for future growth. They have discussed doing some “small-venue-type shows,” during which they would present much of the same information as they do on their tours, but without visiting the actual sites.
We have been approached to do one, so we are putting it together and (will) see how it goes,” Coffey said.
In the meantime, they are keeping quite busy satisfying the curiosity of fans of “The Hunger Games” with their tours.
For more information, visit: www.thehungertours.com.