The 2021 London Wine Fair will be an online-only event after a chance of heart by the organisers caused by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

It had been announced last October that there would be a hybrid digital and live event with visitor numbers capped at 6,000, and the fair had hoped to outline details at their start of January.

But the fresh lockdown and prospects of social distancing and travel restrictions extending into the spring have brought a rethink.

Organisers said the decision had been take in conjunction with exhibitors, the Association of Event Organisers and host venue Olympia.

The digital incarnation of the fair will still take place between the planned live dates of May 17-19, with extra content remaining available for three months after the event.

The London Wine Fair said it expected to return to a 100% live event in 2022.

For the 2021 online event 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 one-to-one 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 the fair, which will work with a partner to fulfil sampling in mini tasting formats to UK and international addresses.  

Stand prices will be reduced.

Organisers said they expected other cost savings, such as travel and accommodation, to make it an attractive package for exhibitors, despite the lack of a real event.

A virtual fair 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. 

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 allow a broader overall reach, across time zones. 

Topics covered will include Brexit, Covid-19, climate change, recovery strategies for the on-trade and global trading conditions. 

A programme of hosted Tasting Masterclasses will be also be accessible, with pre-booking to ensure samples can be delivered in advance.

As with the last fair in 2019, visitors will be charged for entry, with ticket prices set at £20, which 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.

London Wine Fair head 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 AEO 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 UK 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.

“While 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 UK’s departure from the EU, and with international trading more complex than ever, it will be an invaluable platform for business, knowledge gathering and contact building.”