Dorset’s Tank Museum is a major indoor/outdoor museum and tourist attraction that tells the story of armoured warfare from World War One to the present day – its unique collection of over 300 vehicles is regarded as the best in the world.  Every year in early summer, the museum presents Tankfest, a festival which displays its collection in action, bringing the story of tanks, tank crew and soldiers to life.

Tanks n action at Tankfest

The history

Richard Smith, Director, describes Tankfest as a means to strengthen its mission, which is to tell the story of tanks as well as possible to as many people as possible.  The festival takes some 50 vehicles and presents them in an arena setting, with as much panache and movement as possible.

‘It is a much more authentic way of presenting tanks, and it enhances the cultural value of the museum. Of course there is a risk of damage, but action and real engagement is a better experience overall than visiting a static display – it is a multi-sensory, cultural experience.’

Tanks in action at Tankfest

The audiences

Tankfest attracts what is, in cultural terms, a highly unusual demographic – young males aged 18 – 35. Richard attributes this to one thing – the Tank Museum’s close working relationship with computer games, particularly and its World of Tanks game, which has over 140 million players. Tankfest offers players the chance to interact with real and authentic tanks, while the links between the two organisations also sell games. Social media of all types is immensely important here – Facebook, Twitter, and in particular YouTube.

‘Our YouTube channel has had over 5 million views this year, and we have an excellent relationship with various YouTubers.  We provide them with content, and they tell our story. This means a whole audience is engaged through the web.’

Gamers playing at Tankfest

Art in the room

Richard’s aim is to make Tankfest a genuinely memorable experience, and considers art forms of all kinds enhance the overall visitor experience.  The festival’s food court provides a natural performance space for wartime music and dance (the large tank displays are also set to music); while reenactors are on site every day to bring history to life and engage visitors.

In 2016 Bournemouth and Poole College worked with the museum on a 1940s fashion exhibition; and it also works closely with students from Arts University Bournemouth on performance and poetry.  Its latest major relationship however is with Arts Council England, as it is one of the first museums to receive National Portfolio funding, awarded £480,000 over four years to enable it to reaching out to new audiences and younger people using digital technology.  ‘Museums should be about the three Cs’ says Richard.

‘They should Collect and Conserve, which we do; but also Communicate, and this is where all our digital stuff comes in.  The social media numbers are huge – 280k Facebook followers, 16k Twitter followers, plus the YouTube channel.  It is an incredible reach’. 

1940s dancers performing at Tankfest

Contribution to Dorset tourism

The Tank Museum sits in an enviable crossover between cultural organisation and tourist attraction, and is an excursion destination for cruise ships docking at Portland on the nearby Jurassic Coast.  It plans in the future to work more closely with local accommodation providers – Tankfest takes place off-peak, and so extends the season for the tourism sector.

‘When we began we sold just 10% of tickets in advance.  Now it is 100%, we sell out very quickly, and this gives us a predictable income.  We are now working to extend that predictability to others, encouraging secondary spend across the county, and promoting it to a lucrative new demographic.’

Crowds gathered at Tankfest

Best practice tips from Tankfest for your tourist attraction:

  • Always think of the visitor.
  • Constantly change your offer.
  • Build links with others.
  • Intensify the experience.
  • Make sure it is authentic.
  • Make sure your customer care is the best that it can be.
  • Have patience, any new event needs time to grow.