Ten years ago, arguably only the most ardent of Americanophiles had heard of West Monroe or Salem – yet alone visited these American destinations.
Fast forward to 2014 and the towns are firmly on the travel map thanks to two TV shows – Duck Dynasty and Salem – that have brought the spotlight to West Monroe and Salem respectively.
Duck Dynasty – for those that have been living on another planet – is the reality TV series that revolves around the Robertson family whose unofficial motto can be defined as “Faith. Family. Ducks.” The God fearing family run the Duck Commander hunting supply company in West Monroe (a small north Louisiana town) where popular products include a duck call invented by Phil Robertson – the patriarch of the family.
Phil was briefly suspended from the show in December 2013 by the A&E network for remarks he made about homosexuals – the Robertson clan regularly speak out about their religious beliefs.
Looking at the Robertsons’, you wouldn’t picture them as the religious type (we won’t mince words: they resemble a bunch of bearded red necks) but that only goes to show that you should never judge a book by its cover. There are frequent references to faith in the show and the programme invariably ends with family members praying around a table.
It’s proved – perhaps surprisingly – to be a huge hit: Duck Dynasty reported 11.8 million viewers for its season premier last year, a record for a cable reality show. And West Monroe is reaping the benefits as fans flock to the Robertson family’s home town.
“We laugh and smile and shake our heads because the show has really put us on the map,” says Courtney Hornsby, president of the West Monroe-West Ouachita Chamber of Commerce. “We’re just trying to embrace it.”
And embrace it they have: gift stores have sprung up selling Duck Dynasty memorabilia such as ‘Bearded Blend’ coffee, a branded body wash and a book called Happy, Happy, Happy: My Life and Legacy as the Duck Commander by Phil Robertson. They have even opened a Duck Dynasty themed restaurant – Willie’s Duck Diner - and a women’s boutique called Duck and Dressing.
Factor in self-guided tour maps (allowing fans to follow in the Robertson family’s footsteps and visit sites featured on the show such as the hardware store and doughnut shop) and it’s fair to say that the tiny town of West Monroe, La, has become an unlikely holiday hot spot.
As has Salem. The seaside port city that’s within easy day tripping distance of Boston, is enjoying a tourism boost thanks to the new WGN America show, Salem. “The first week the show aired, our web traffic went up about 20 percent,” says Kate Fox, Salem’s tourism director. Clearly TV viewers, ahem, witch they were in Salem. It’s a stance shared by Fox: “All indications are we’re going to have a great season.”
Described as “Wuthering Heights meets The Exorcist” by the show’s co-creator, Brannon Braga (24, Cosmos), the supernatural thriller takes place against the backdrop of the Salem witch trials and centres on Mary Sibley (Janet Montgomery) – the wife of an ailing town leader and reigning Salem sorceress.
Although the show was actually filmed in Louisiana, it’s cast a spell over viewers who are making a pilgrimage to the small town of Salem. Case in point? Salem’s Witch Museum witnessed dramatically more visitors this April than last, and the surge in visitors can’t be a coincidence.
The message seems clear: if a destination wants to boost its tourism figures, it needs a hit show – something that my home town of Watford would do well to realise. The Only Way Is Watford anyone?