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Worldwatch: Pleasure meet in Davos

There?s more to the WEF at Davos than conferences. Mountains, the polo match on the frozen lake at St Moritz. Geetika Jain reports.

india Updated: Aug 18, 2008 19:38 IST

It’s a pilgrimage thousands of people make annually. Davos, a small snow-laden town in Switzerland, two hours south west of Zurich by car, attracts some of the world’s most powerful, creative and intellectual people at the World Economic Forum (WEF) every year. Launched in 1971, WEF has come to reign as the event of the year for musing on global issues and networking.

Golf resort to a ski destination
Davos morphs seamlessly from being a golf resort in the summer to a skiing destination in the winter (a trifle beyond a yodel, it is 20 minutes uphill from its cousin Klosters, famous for hosting Prince Charles and his boys for their yearly snow frolic) to a giant think-tank for a week in January. The meetings have a feel of informality engendered by the fact that one is at a ski resort during the ski season.

This year, there were around 20 heads of state, 60 ministers, 2,500 prominent guests, and several thousand highly-prized delegates, several of whom were joined by their spouses. These demi-gods are a mosaic of international politicians, economists, chief executives, investment bankers, media folk, social workers, conservationists, film stars and artists.

Joining the bandwagon are bodyguards, security personnel, drivers, support staff, caterers, entertainers and their entourages. Personnel from the Swiss, Italian and German armies are mobilised. This year, a U.S army double rotor blade chopper was deployed which served as a mobile surgery unit, capable of performing 14 operations at a time.

Everything glides remarkably smoothly. The details are assiduously worked out. Things fall into place with Swiss watch precision. Check posts ensure security and deter hangers on. The whole town is given over to the event.
The hotels focus on the delegates, turning into veritable conference centres. Computer kiosks are set up everywhere so people can sign up for the sessions and workshops.

A whole new transportation network kicks in, and often the drivers are local college students who fill the role by tossing on a black suit. This year, we were the beneficiaries of a 4- km-long tunnel that bypassed Klosters, slicing off 15 minutes from the drive up from Zurich.
Tips for a first timer

If you are a first timer in Davos, set up your one-on-one meetings as soon as the list of delegates is announced. It’s not unlike an elaborate mating ritual and can take months to fine-tune. Stay in hotels is hierarchical. Rooms at the Stigenberger Belvedere Hotel, and the Congress Centre go to those most closely associated with the WEF.

These are the main centres where most of the talks take place, and rooming within them saves schlepping time and slippery pavements. If you are to book your own hotel, choose between the Arabella Sheraton Seehof, and its sisters the AS Waldhuss, and the AS Derby.

There is also the Sport Centre and the Posti, which are right on the promenade, a short walk away. To commune with the Alps, the Schatzalp, perched high up, is a good pick as it has commanding views of the snow-covered mountains and the town below. It is, however, a bit remote as it can be accessed only by a cable car which runs every 20 minutes.