Banksy effect gets Weston 'buzzing'
PUBLISHED: 08:06 14 September 2015 | UPDATED: 15:09 14 September 2015
BANKSY'S Dismaland has left Weston 'buzzing like it has never buzzed before' with shops reporting a significant rise in trade and hotels sold out after a 'phenomenal' surge in demand.
Businesses have told the Mercury this week of the ‘overwhelming’ boost received since the art exhibition opened at the Tropicana three weeks ago, with the long-term jolt to the economy already predicted to exceed the initial £7million forecast.
One seafront hotelier said all vacancies have been snapped up until the end of the month, with guests from as far afield as Switzerland and the United States.
Celebrity guests have included Russell Brand, Mark Ronson, Glee star Darren Criss, and members of Duran Duran, while renowned DJ Fatboy Slim has also performed – all bringing added exposure as many have tweeted about their experiences.
The Grand Pier welcomed 9,000 extra visitors through its turnstiles in August compared to last year, while Weston shops have enjoyed a ‘brilliant’ surge in sales according to town centre manager Steve Townsend.
He told the Mercury: “One of our major retailers told me they normally experience a big drop when the schools go back – there’s been none of that this year.
“Another said they have been up by nearly 10 per cent on last year; the boost is brilliant.
“I’ve seen some big numbers banded around about the impact; I would think it has got to be at least £7-10million for the economy, and tens of millions from the global advertising.
“Everyone I speak to thinks the cultural aspect should be retained. It could re-invigorate the town; look at Margate, it’s completely reinvented itself and has a large art gallery and several boutique hotels.”
He added: “And for major retailers looking to come to Weston, this will show what a creative and imaginative town we can be, and how much footfall can follow.”
‘No vacancies’ signs have begun springing up outside the town’s hotels, with the Grand Atlantic sold out throughout August and the Sunfold Hotel, which sits directly opposite the Tropicana, enjoying its best September on record.
Its owner, Jacquie Whelan, said: “It’s phenomenal really. Every time we looked at the booking list it was filled. Normally we get people coming to stay for a few days at this time of year but we’ve been swamped with overnighters. Every time we put a room up it gets snapped up.
“We’ve had people in from all over the world. America, Switzerland, Germany – we had a guy who came in without a ticket when the website was down from Los Angeles. It’s really captured the world’s attention.”
North Somerset Council has struggled for a 15 years to find a use for the Tropicana, but its executive member for property, David Pasley, believes Dismaland has created a ‘totally magical experience’ in the former pool.
He said: “I have been getting an amazing amount of feedback from people and the whole place is buzzing like it has never buzzed before.
“The businesses and shops are staying open well after 5pm which they didn’t do before, it was a rather sad area of the past when the 5pm shutters came down, but now there seems to be a lot more people around.
“Car parks, which are of course owned by us, are enjoying an amazing amount of business and we have tried to plan extra parking spaces for visitors coming in to go to the exhibition.
“Visitors are coming in from all over the world, it is just a totally magical experience. People tell me they are going back or want to go back a second time which is really great.”
Chris Partridge, who runs the Cabot Court Hotel on the seafront, said Dismaland showed what a ‘boost to the town’ could be created by the right development.
He said: “The hotel has had excellent occupancy levels and I think it has had a positive impact on the town. It is wonderful for the trade to carry on a little bit longer.
“We have had lots of people who are obviously art fans and Banksy fans coming in; it has been a noticeable presence.
“There’ve been a couple of negative comments about the queues, but the people who have been have loved it. It just goes to show if you have the right thing there it will be a boost to the town.”
Banksy’s arrival has paved the way for other artistic ideas, too. Local street artists JPS and John D’oh are among those to have added art installations in Weston since Dismaland arrival, while the Sand Sculpture Festival which neighbours the exhibition could be next to follow.
Nicola Wood, one of the festival organisers, said: “From what I’ve heard, those who cannot get into Banksy are popping into our festival.
“It has benefitted us. It has been very exciting having it next door. We are thinking of doing a Banksy sand sculpture for the festival.”
The exhibition may only be midway through its six-week run, but having already attracted headlines from the New York Times to the Sydney Morning Herald, brought thousands to the area and potentially millions to the economy, it seems there is little chance of this story coming to a dismal end.