London Wine Fair director outlines her vision for the event

Hannah Tovey has just taken over from Ross Carter as event director for the London Wine Fair following a long and varied career in the industry.

DRN caught up with her to learn more about her goals and the direction in which she hopes to take the fair. 

As an outsider, how did you view the London Wine Fair before taking the job? 
I've attended the fair every year for nearly 20 years, mostly as a visitor and occasionally as an exhibitor. I ran a stand for The Wine Gang more recently and also launched the Sommelier Wine Awards at LWF back in the ExCeL era. Over the years I've closed deals at the fair that have secured the success of big projects, I've made countless contacts that have opened up new opportunities and I've learned so much. Every single year I get to the end of the three days utterly exhausted and hoarse, but mostly happy to be part of an industry that I love. So, I guess "unmisssable" is the most fitting answer.

How do you feel your previous experience sets you up to take on the new role? 
I've always worked on the commercial side of wine publishing and events with many of the UK's leading titles and companies, so in many ways this is a natural, albeit very exciting, progression for me. If you work in wine events, this is the big one. I have a great network of contacts, many of whom I count as friends and I can trust to give honest and helpful opinions. It's probably fair to say I have a reputation for giving 100% to whatever role I take on, too. I also have the experience of launching and then heading up the Imbibe portfolio for eight years, including Imbibe Live, which was an invaluable experience.

What is your strategy for ensuring the London Wine Fair remains a thriving event? 
Firstly, identifying and consolidating the bits that make it great. It can't be overlooked that over 12,200 wine trade professionals and almost 600 exhibitors attended this year and the feedback has been great. There is room for improvement though. Investing time and budget to improve the databases and the way the event is marketed is one avenue we're investing in. I'm also introducing a couple of entirely new zones to welcome new exhibitors and create a good visitor pull. Having a brand new, energetic team and a new look to the branding will create that feeling of a new era, which is always exciting.

The fair seems to have grown smaller over recent years and that might reflect the trade also growing smaller due to consolidation. Do you think it is possible to arrest that and spark growth again, or will it be about offering a strong offering in a streamlined format? 
I do feel confident that there is strong growth potential. On this basis, I've recruited an extra sales person to assist with selling in the new zones and we are investing heavily in the exhibitor and visitor marketing of the event.

What is your message to potential exhibitors? 

Get in touch! Let us fill you in on all the exciting developments and we can also make sure that you are receiving our brilliant bi-weekly mailer “Grapevine”, which addresses all the pressing issues facing our industry and will keep you up to speed with how to get the most out of the fair.

What is your message to buyers about why they should attend? 

We are introducing two new zones in the next few weeks: one that celebrates a part of the trade that is truly exciting and in growth. The other that will position the London Wine fair as forward looking and a provider of solutions. We are also putting together an unmissable schedule of seminars. 

Are there any significant changes you are keen to make? Things like layout, content, or indeed where and when the fair takes place? 
The new zones will affect the layout and create a better flow around the event. They will also deliver fresh content. In terms of timing, everyone has a different opinion on when the event should be and finding a consensus to suit everyone is quite simply impossible. My strong feeling is that London Wine Fair owns May in the UK wine calendar. Everyone sets their watch by it in many ways and therefore I think it should remain in May. We are fully confirmed for May 21-23, 2018, at Olympia.

What are the main challenges and opportunities you see for LWF going forwards? 
The increasing cost and limited availability of suitable venue space. The uncertainty surrounding Brexit and the contraction of the wine industry. The key opportunities exist in bringing back some of the key importers who have missed the event in recent years, revolutionising the marketing campaign and reaching an even bigger audience, plus introducing new zones to tie-in with our growth areas and re-energise the event.

To what extent do you feel the trade has a moral obligation to support LWF to ensure the UK has a thriving and dedicated event? Or is it simply a business decision? 
I do wholeheartedly believe that the trade is stronger for having London Wine Fair, that we become greater than the sum of our parts if we come together once a year. There are so many industry-wide issues that can be explored and moved forwards in this setting. The importance of networking really shouldn’t be underplayed either. Exhibiting should be a business decision too, of course, and I appreciate that it is no small investment. Having spent the last couple of weeks speaking to last years' exhibitors I have heard countless times that many of them still haven’t even had a chance to follow up on all the leads they picked up at the last event because they have so many. Nice problem to have! Needless to say, they are rebooking. I am really aware that some companies who don't exhibit do send their sales teams down to the event each year to have meetings on-site. As you've mentioned moral obligations, I would say that these companies ought to invest in the event if they wish to benefit commercially from it. On that basis I will be introducing a fee for non-exhibiting importer attendees to attend as visitors. Those from the marketing side of potential exhibitor companies wishing to check-out the event would be welcome to come along for a meeting with one of our sales team of course.

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