UK: London Wine Fair announces a 100% digital show for 2021

The organisers of the London Wine Fair have announced that the 2021 show will now take place virtually. The decision was taken in light of the on-going uncertainty around the Covid-19 pandemic, and in consultation with exhibitors, the Association of Event Organisers (A.E.O.), and Olympia.

At the beginning of January, the organisers had intended to announce a hybrid event, combining both live and digital elements. From discussions with exhibitors, the vast majority were in favour of there being a 2021 show in some form, with 70% confirming that the event is important for their business. But, in light of the current concern over virus mutations, transmissibility, unknowns around U.K. Lockdown easing and travel restrictions, a virtual show quickly became inevitable, with the final decision to move to 100% digital taken yesterday (20th January).

London Wine Fair 2021 will be the most advanced digital show of its kind, with an unrivalled, pioneering offer. It will take place some 14 months since the last live trade tasting of any scale in the U.K., at a time when trading conditions are at their most complex for decades. Plans for at least some digital element have been in place for several weeks, and the team has been working with Bottlebooks, which runs the show’s database, to implement this. The digital platform will create a fully immersive event which will allow exhibitors and visitors to engage on a one-to-one basis, in larger groups and across the whole London Wine Fair audience to recreate the typical buzz of a live show.

Exhibitors will have a virtual stand, which can be tailored for individual companies or as a generic pavilion for associations or groups of exhibitors. Each stand can feature imagery, tasting notes, news of launches, videos of the winemaking team, virtual winery tours and access to bookable 121 meetings. Added upgrades will allow exhibitors to send out samples to specific visitors, including buyers, key decision makers and wine writers. These can either be handled directly by the exhibitors or organised by LWF, which will work with a partner to fulfil sampling in mini tasting formats to U.K. addresses and internationally.

A fully digital show will mean a significant cost saving for exhibitors. Whilst the cost of a virtual stand will be much lower, there will also be sizeable savings on the associated cost of travel, accommodation and entertainment, which can amount to several thousand pounds for the average exhibitor. It is expected that the majority of exhibitors who signed up to the 2020 show, and who were intending to participate in 2021, will attend, and that several more will now take part, many for the first time.

The London Wine Fair virtual layout will replicate the live event, with the event split into “rooms”, featuring Industry Briefings, Seminars and Masterclasses. Exhibitors can be filtered by “zone”, such as Esoterica or Wines Unearthed, to recreate the sense of the live event. Content, which has always been an essential part of the London Wine Fair, will be on a significant scale this year. Industry Briefings will be live, with real-time Q&As, and visitors will be able to access recorded editions in their own time, which will ensure a broader overall reach, across time zones. The schedule will provide a rich resource for issues pertinent to the U.K. and the international industry right now: Brexit; Covid-19; Climate Change; recovery strategies for the on-trade; and global trading conditions will all be featured. A programme of hosted Tasting Masterclasses will be also be accessible, with pre-booking essential to ensure samples can be delivered in advance.

As with the 2019 Fair, visitors will be charged for entry. Tickets, which will cost £20, will give access to all three days of content and three months of exhibitor listings and sample request opportunities. All those applying for tickets will be verified to ensure the audience is 100% trade and relevant. It is expected that without the barriers of time constraints and travel, that apply to some elements of the trade, the visitor audience is likely to be significant.

Commenting on the decision, Head of London Wine Fair, Hannah Tovey said: “In December we were very confident that a live event would be possible. Everything was looking extremely positive at that stage and the A.E.O. was advising that live events could safely take place from early 2021. But just one-month on and there is now just too much uncertainty and we cannot be confident in delivering a safe and meaningful live event. The U.K. is in Lockdown and is likely to be so for several more weeks; the new variant strain and its transmissibility is concerning, as are international travel restrictions, which would affect a number of our exhibitors, as well as visitors.

“Since we already had to postpone the 2020 show, we have had contingency plans in place for 2021, so that the entire event could switch from a hybrid one or to fully digital as necessary, and we have had to keep an open mind on this. We are already turning our thoughts towards the 2022 event, which we fully expect to be “business as usual”, hosted at Olympia and within our regular mid-May dates. We expect there may be several elements of the 2021 digital show which will only enhance the live 2022 edition and will be looking to incorporate these where they can add value.

“From discussions with our exhibitors and visitors, it is clear there is a real appetite for the 40th edition of the London Wine Fair to go ahead. Whilst the 2021 show is not the live event we all hoped could happen, we are extremely confident that we can deliver a Fair which will be an essential forum for the drinks industry. Taking place towards the end of a global pandemic and at the beginning of the U.K.’s departure from the E.U., and with international trading more complex than ever, it will be an invaluable platform for business, knowledge gathering and contact building.”

The 2021 London Wine Fair will take place between 17th and 19th May, with further content for the following three months.

Source: London Wine Fair
Photo: ©iStockphoto | VadimZakirov