Banksy's Dismaland 'gave Weston-super-Mare a £20m boost'

By Dave Harvey
Business Correspondent, BBC West

image source, Getty Images
image captionDismaland satirises the theme-park industry

When Banksy's anti-capitalist show Dismaland closes its doors on Sunday, the irony that it will have generated an estimated £20m in extra revenue for its surrounding area will not have been lost on traders.

Over the past five weeks, more than 150,000 people have visited the subversive theme park in a derelict seafront lido, which had been shut since 2000 and reopened in a blaze of publicity on 20 August.

The temporary art show in Weston-super-Mare has sold 4,000 tickets a day online, plus 500 more to people willing to queue for hours, often in pouring rain.

Dismaland describes itself as offering "entry-level anarchism", and satirises the tourism and theme-park industries.

But, it is the town's tourist businesses that have reaped the benefit - to the tune of £20m, says Visit Somerset, more than three times what the trade body initially suggested.

image source, Reuters
image captionThe show closes on Sunday after a five-week run
image source, PA
image captionCrowds watching an evening of comedy at the theme park
image source, PA
image captionThe Sleaford Mods are among the bands who have performed on stage at Dismaland
image source, PA
image captionCrowds sat in the rain watching Katherine Ryan perform during an evening of comedy

"The show has gone way beyond our hopes, says John Turner, of Visit Somerset.

"This has been a global phenomenon of major importance for the region and underlines how important tourism can be in the local economy."

The biggest boost has been to hotels and B&Bs. September is usually quiet, with most only half-full. But throughout the Dismaland show, almost every bed in Weston has been sold each night.

Hotelier Keith Fearn, who also runs the town's Hoteliers Association, said his two establishments have "been full every night".

"Hotels have been much busier than normal, and foreign visitors are from everywhere which is fantastic," he said. "Mexico, Thailand, China, America - everywhere."

Mr Fearn calculates that compared with the same period last year, an additional 50,000 nights have been sold in the town's hotels, with each guest spending an average of of £150 a night, allowing for dinner and drinks - ultimately generating about £7.5m.

image source, PA
image captionA visitor poses for a picture through a "selfie hole"
image source, PA
image captionInstallations included this "Boat pond piece" by Banksy
image source, PA
image captionOne of Banksy's pieces on show includes "A woman attacked by seagulls"

Restaurants have been busy too. In her contemporary Italian eatery on the seafront, Victoria Upward showed me her reservations diary.

Every night has been full, even midweek, which is normally unheard of at this time of year - and attracting a much wider range of customers.

"Traditionally, we would have small families or coach trips," she said. "But we've had Americans, Germans, hipsters, new age travellers, you name it."

Anyone with a small plot of land on the seafront has opened temporary car parks, often charging £5, which is more than the £3 admission to Dismaland itself.

Thousands have come by train. Great Western Railways report a doubling of numbers on the Paddington to Weston line, equating to about £4.5m extra revenue.

Everyone has noted the irony of the anti-capitalist art show boosting business.

But, Banksy said he chose Weston because "I went there every summer until I was 17", so perhaps he would feel a little less animosity to small local traders than multi-nationals.

For Mr Turner, the event shows Weston can laugh at itself.

"It's just like the British, really," he said. "We never take ourselves too seriously.

"Banksy has ripped the Michael out of us, but it's brought a great deal back into the local economy."

image source, Reuters

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