Now that Dismaland has closed its gates, how much of a PR windfall did Banksy’s theme park provide for Weston-super-Mare?
According to North Somerset tourism chiefs, the answer is a resounding yes. Their predictions suggest the art installation billed by it’s own website as the “UK’s most disappointing new visitor attraction” has brought £20million of business to the seaside town.
Their figures are based on capacity crowds snapping up tickets for every day of the five week Dismaland season, with 4,500 people visiting daily in late August and throughout September.
These results are made even better by the fact that the sales have come in after the typical school holiday season, drawing out crowds of holidaymakers in an off-peak period when tourism businesses across Weston-super-Mare might normally expect to be quiet.
But what were the magic ingredients that made Dismaland such a success?
As a PR campaign, Dismaland had it all: a secretive celebrity, A-list stars, Britain’s hippest artists, a devilish sense of humour, all brought to one of Britain’s most famous seaside towns.
Dismaland was an art installation dressed up as a family theme park; a noirish twist on Disneyland with attractions created to make a cutting comment on modern society. The 58 works from a bevy of artists include a pocket-money loans shop, a Cinderella coach crash with gawping paparazzi, and a Jeffrey Archer book-burning pit.
Secrecy was key to peaking media interest, and Dismaland was built without local press, the tourist board and residents getting wind of what was going on. Even the teams employed to run the park were told they were signing up to work on a movie set.
According to Nigel Ashton, leader of North Somerset Council: “Only four people in the entire council knew what was really happening.”
When Dismaland launched in August, it caught press across the world by surprise and they were only too willing to write about Banksy’s newest project.
The launch generated millions of articles and news pieces across the world, with Weston-super-Mare piggy-backing on the widespread coverage. A Google search at the time put the number of online articles generated around the launch at more than 4.8 million.
The good publicity snowballed and even Hollywood royalty, in the shape of Brad Pitt and Jack Black, booked in for a visit.
Weston-super-Mare leaders couldn’t believe their luck. Mike Jackson, chief executive of North Somerset Council, told Radio Bristol at the time of launch: “We’ve estimated the economic benefit is at least £6m, there’s a real buzz about the town.”
Six weeks on, the the local economy is now thought to have benefited by more than three times the Council’s original predictions.
Debbie Matthews, tourism manager at Love Weston says: “A lot of people think of Weston as a tired seaside town – it’s a very common misconception. But there has been a lot of redevelopment here in the past few years, and [Dismaland] is a great way to show people that.”
Incredibly, Weston-super-Mare avoided any bill for the development, with Banksy covering the £400,000 cost.
Dismaland isn’t the first time that Banksy has helped out a British seaside town. In September 2014 a Banksy mural, Art Buff, appeared overnight in Folkestone, Kent, drawing fans who were desperate to discover the new image. However just a few weeks later the image was chipped off the wall and flown to Miami for private sale. There are almost 15,000 Art Buff news articles on Google.
In the same month, a UKIP-inspired Banksy mural in Clacton-on-Sea, showing a posse of pigeons with anti-immigration placards, was painted over by the local council following one complaint that the image was racist. A spokesperson for the council later conceded they had acted rashly and missed out on the tourism benefits, and invited Banksy back to paint another artwork (an offer he’s yet to take up). The episode generated around 1,200 pieces of coverage for Clacton-on-Sea.
Whether or not you think what Banksy does is art, the impact his works have on the towns they are set in is undeniable, bringing with them massive amounts of press coverage, visitor numbers and tourist spend.
So the cry from tourist boards across the UK must be long live Banksy, the saviour of British tourism.