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LWF: Visitor numbers tracking 2018 despite entry fee

Published:  22 May, 2019

The number of visitors to London Wine Fair (LWF) is tracking those of last year so far despite the entry fee introduced for the first time this year.

Talking to Harpers earlier today - the last day of the Fair, head of LWF Hannah Tovey said that although too early to say with nearly a full day to go, visitor numbers so far were similar to those on the morning of the last day of LWF 2018.

“Because we were introducing the ticketing, and because we knew that could mean taking a hit in terms of people on site, we did a huge amount of work in terms of driving the target demographic to off-set this, including heavily increasing the marketing we did to the on- and off-trade and so far it appears to be paying off,” said Tovey.

The Fair had set the “ambitious target” of hitting 2018 numbers but projected it would end up "between 2017 and 2018" - visitors leaped 17% in 2018 to 14,250, Tovey’s first year at the helm, up from 11,828 in 2017.

"We are nearly there”, said Tovey. “We ended up with slightly less pre-registered visitors but then we worked really hard on our conversion rate to improve that and it seems to have paid dividends - we are pretty close. It will be very near whatever happens now, but how close we get depends on how today goes.”

In terms of attracting “perhaps more genuine visitors” to the show - the reason behind introducing the entry fee, Tovey said the consensus among exhibitors had been that they had noticed a “discernible improvement in the quality of visitors”.

“Charging certain sectors of the industry has helped to stop some of the perhaps less than genuine visitors because they would have got caught at the paywall. A core reason for introducing the fee was to protect our exhibitors from having to share their trading space with competitors who are non exhibitors and we seem to have achieved this.

“We still welcomed everyone in to the show if they wanted to come and assess it for next year but not to come in as sales people and hold sales meetings on site.”

However, Tovey admitted there was room for improvement in terms of “spreading the word”.

“It's impossible to have a completely straightforward paying strategy where nobody or everyone pays. We needed a slightly more complex strategy to acknowledge all the different parts of the trade. And the aim was to come up with the most fair strategy. We did as much PR as we could to explain how it would work but I think there is room for improvement, perhaps in sharing that strategy more clearly as there have been a few misunderstandings as to the policy - who pays and who doesn’t.

“We have learned from this year that it takes an awful lot to change something so dramatically - to get the message out, so we will be working on that.”

Tovey was positive in regards to the progress made in terms of attracting key players to exhibit.

“We have had some success in getting the bigger companies to exhibit and think it’s a real turning point for us. We are still working on a three year strategy - year one was really all about visitor numbers and making sure the databases we own are as powerful as possible. Year two was about trying to bring in some of those premium suppliers and we achieved that with Enotria. Buckingham Schenk is already talking about being back next year and C&C Wines has already said it wants to take a bigger stand next year,” she said.

Visits from lots of the key importers had also been to “have a look around”, she added.

“I am feeling really confident about 2020 in terms of seeing back those companies that we need here. Go hard or go home this year for those guys because its our 40th anniversary and we have proven we can improve the numbers and the quality and that premium big suppliers can have an amazing show. I feel like a few of those bigger importers are becoming more like-minded about coming back to the show - not all of them, we have still got some work to do with some of them - but we are making good steps.”

Looking ahead to next year, Tovey revealed that a “significant” new addition to the show - around celebrating buyers - would be unveiled in the next couple of months alongside planned anniversary celebrations.