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First digital LWF "exceeds expectations" though numbers fall

Published:  20 May, 2021

The first of its kind digital London Wine Fair might just be the largest of its kind in the history of the wine trade, though it failed to attract the same level of interest as its physical event.

Numbers released today by organisers show that 2,608 visitors attended the 2021 fair. This is a significant fall from the 13,260 visitors that attended in 2019, the last year that the wine fair was held in its usual spot at the Kensington Olympia halls.

This morning, LWF director Hannah Tovey told Harpers that this number still exceeded the targets set by the Fair, which was organised in under four months in response to ongoing restrictions around Covid.

“In terms of general industry standards, [the number of attendees was] actually quite high – significantly lower than a ‘real life’ Olympia event, but I think we over-delivered in terms of expectations of events that shift from live to digital, we certainly exceeded our own expectations,” said Tovey.

“We’ve checked and we’re 99.9% sure that this is the biggest digital wine event we can find in the world.”

According to the official figures, 2,608 visitors attended the 2021 London Wine Fair, with 238 virtual stands showing over 3,435 different products, from 33 different countries. Borough Wines, which partnered with LWF to manage sample rebottling and deliveries, sent 25,000 individual samples to businesses, buyers and journalists.

The 28 sessions, which included Tasting Masterclasses, Industry Briefings and Panel Discussions, have been viewed nearly 6,000 times so far, with 154 people watching The Fair’s headline briefing live on the first morning: the WSTA’s “Wine Trading 2021: Where are we?” hosted by CEO Miles Beale.

Meanwhile, almost 9,500 meeting communications took place throughout the three days within the networking platform – a combination of algorithm suggestions bringing attendees and proposed exhibitors together, plus meetings proactively organised by attendees.

Commenting on the number of smaller regions and companies presenting at the Fair this year, Tovey said that the lower costs of entering a digital event had “democratised” the Fair.

“[It was] a real cross section, because price points are very different in digital, it became far more accessible to smaller producers who, by the time you add flight costs and hotels costs, would normally be priced out of a UK trade Fair. It became a more diverse event for that.”

London Wine Fair had already been pivoting its focus ahead of the pandemic, repositioning to focus more on the UK and its independent and on-trade sectors, while looking to lure back exhibiting importers after a period of declining attendance.

In 2019, visitor numbers were down 7% on 2018, with 13,260 visitors attending the show, although this was up 9% on 2017. The first day of the 2019 show attracted 6,165 visitors alone.

The 2021 digital event, with its lower cost barrier, did tempt some old exhibitors to return.

“Some larger importers that hadn’t joined the Fair for a few years now found the opportunity to come back and test the London Wine Fair database at a lower price access point – we were happy to welcome back Hallgarten and Fells, for instance, and many others,” said Tovey.

The LWF platform will remain in place for a further three months to allow registered visitors access to samples via exhibitor stands as well as recordings of the scheduled content.

Asked if aspects of the digital Fair might be merged with future physical London Wine Fairs, Tovey said “yes, 100%”, adding that her job over the next few weeks was to “work out how to create a hybrid, to get the best out of each aspect, digital and real life”.

“Some of the things we’ve discovered in delivering a digital event cannot be mirrored in real life, the efficiencies and analytics and so on are fantastic, to have an algorithm that matches up exhibitors and visitors, and providing a template of 15 minute meetings,” Tovey added.

“It really dialled up the business functionality of it … the beauty of digital is we can see it.”

The dates for a hybrid digital and physical London Wine Fair 2022 have been confirmed as 16 to 18 May, which will take place at the Olympia and online.