Hong Kong wine buyers complain of difficulty in getting passes for Vinexpo

The trade show is trying to crack down on freeloading by tightening its invitation process, which has annoyed some wine insiders and journalists who say they’re having trouble getting access

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 May, 2016, 12:27pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 May, 2016, 12:27pm

An invitation fiasco is threatening to overshadow next week’s Vinexpo Asia-Pacific in Wan Chai, with prospective Hong Kong retailers and restaurateurs complaining of difficulties in securing invitations to the wine trade fair and balking at a HK$450 entrance fee.

Although primarily a forum for building relationships, the trade expo is also a chance for buyers to sample wines they may consider adding to shop shelves and wine lists.

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To deter so-called wine tourists, accused of gatecrashing the expo for free samples, organisers have this year tightened the invitation process. Retailers and restaurateurs must now be issued with invitations from wineries, but it appears many are unaware of their new role.

Wineries that have issued invitations have in some cases sent them to the wrong email addresses, because buyers in Hong Kong change jobs frequently, according to those who have previously visited the fair.

There has also been an influx of French professionals to the Hong Kong wine industry in the two years since the last show, many of whom have been facing difficulties.

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Matthew Bradford, director of operations at Good Moments Group, which includes local wine bars such as Le Tambour and Peel Fresco, says it took him three working days and a number of emails to obtain a pass. He was initially asked to pay HK$450 to apply for a ticket – with no guarantee he would be issued one, he says.

“Nice business model: charge people to exhibit, use their brand name to generate interest, limit access, charge again,” he says.

Previously, attendees who registered in advance and could prove they were from the wine trade were given a free pass.

Bradford told the organisers he would not pay to attend because he is in the trade and a potential buyer from the exhibiters, who themselves are paying to attend the show.

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“I got a reply that they would exceptionally let me enter free of charge but they were trying to ensure that the event is trade only. I was sent a link to register all over again and this time I was issued a pass,” Bradford says.

Vinexpo CEO Guillaume Deglise says: “We have a duty to our exhibitors to bring leading professionals with a strong focus on Asia-Pacific to the show; importers, distributors, wholesalers, retailers and off- and on-trade buyers. Visiting professionals are just as important to us as the exhibitors.”

Deglise denies there have been problems. “If potential visitors don’t have an invitation, the entrance fee is HK$450, which is very much in line with all trade fairs across the globe. Selection is key at Vinexpo, as expected by all attendees, but registering is very user-friendly for all professionals.”

Tersina Shieh, who writes about wine for several publications in Asia, says she knows of at least eight people from the food and beverage trade who have had their applications turned down. Shieh was expecting a free media pass and says she only obtained one by pulling strings with the fair’s public relations agency. She is not sure the pass will get her into the fair because after obtaining it organisers emailed her to say her application had failed.

“I think Vinexpo really has to seriously look into this,” Shieh says. “I suppose it’s more of an IT issue. Or if there is someone who is checking and approving every single application then this person is really not doing his job properly.”

Deglise says organisers pride themselves on setting the highest professional standards for exhibitors and visitors alike, and that the expo is helping build trade relationships and promoting networking events. “For these reasons we feel confident in this year’s attendance, especially because the global wine and spirits business in Asia is even more dynamic than two years ago,” he says.

The expo, running from May 24 to 26 at the Convention and Exhibition Centre, will host 1,700 exhibitors from 34 countries and is expected to attract 16,700 visitors.