It was essential that both exhibitors and visitors to this year's London International Wine and Spirits Fair (LIWSF) plan their visit very carefully, Britex Fair Director, Andrew Evans, told South African wine exporters.

Addressing a workshop attended by more than 70 wineries and organised by Wines of South Africa (WOSA) in Stellenbosch Thursday, Evans said: "The days of paying your entry fee, sending your product over to London and expecting it to just happen are long gone."

In an interview before the workshop, Evans said the name of the fair, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, has also been changed to reflect the broader interests of the industry.

He said there were 14,845 trade visitors to Olympia, viewing the products of 1,037 exhibitors from 33 countries at last year's show. Some 25% of the trade visitors were responsible for sourcing both wine and spirits.

As a result of these volumes of people, there is very little chance of wineries setting up a stand and hoping to attract serious business from the "passing traffic".

Wine buyers and executives in the trade are inclined to have a more structured plan to their visit and a growing number organise pre-arranged business appointments with winemakers or marketers.

In the past five years South Africa had increased its exhibition area at the fair five fold, going up from 100 to 500 sq metres. The number of exhibitors has also grown steadily and is expected to increase from 66 last year to 73 this May, with WOSA reporting a waiting list of wineries wanting to participate.

"I'm here to assist people who want to exhibit at the fair and get the best value for their money. It costs all exhibitors a great deal - but especially countries such as South Africa whose currency against the pound is weak."

"I want people to know what they can expect in London, what their objectives should be and how to measure their success. There is a science to marketing at large fairs today and people must know how to apply it."

Evans said there are a number of new features to this year's fair including an E-Zone, where space for about 15 online vendors can promote e-commerce products to the wine and spirits industry.

"I feel our fair should not necessarily direct the course of an industry, but should reflect what is happening in the industry, which led to the creation of the E-Zone - because in the past 12 months there has been phenomenal growth in that area."

"Nobody knows where it is going, but we felt we should provide a home for e-commerce so that people know what is happening in that sector of the industry. There is also a certain amount of mystic about e-commerce and there is a need for companies to de-mystify it and explain what it is all about," Evans said.

The VIP Buyer Club, an initiative for 500 of the world's most influential buyers, gets a new name and will from now on be known as the Elite Club, which caters for the top buyers from around the world.

The international restaurant pavilion, which was started last year, was such a roaring success they have again been booked by France, Germany, Australia and France again this year.

Likewise with the industry seminar briefings, there is keen interest in the five seminars planned. The first, a three-year study by the Wine and Spirit Association into cork taint has already been confirmed and according to Evans, should provide lively debate.