Davos – 10 things you might not know about Davos
Freelance journalist Jillian Godsil popped her Davos cherry this year and learnt ten surprising things you might not know about Davos
Now in its 50th year, the World Economic Forum (WEF) summit was first launched by German economist Klaus Schwab. The conference is aimed at working with both private and public bodies with the objective of impacting the global agenda on finances, economics and more recently climate change. It is held at the end of January in Davos, a mountain resort in the eastern Alps in Switzerland. The meeting is by invitation only and brings together some 3000 business leaders, international political leader, economists, celebrities and journalists for 5 days.
However, there are also many fringe events happening in and around this tiny town which attracts a further 40,000 plus people keen to meet, talk about key issues and do business.
I attended the Davos Summit on the fringe. It was an eye opener but not in the way people might imagine. I attended as a freelance journalist.
- The main promenade of Davos is converted into an exhibition space. The promenade itself is relatively short but every shop face gets a makeover so instead of retail outlets the main companies appear to have their headquarters on the main street. False facades and often total re-dos inside would make you think you were inside a major conference rather than on a main street in an Alpine town.
- The traffic is legendary. There is one main street and everyone wants to get up or down it. Lots of Swiss traffic police are stationed at every corner with their distinctive lighted red cones – like stunted light sabres – directing everyone this way and that, mostly at a snail’s pace. Get in early or get stuff in traffic.
- No one stays in Davos unless you are one of the exclusive 3000 invited guests. Everyone else scrambles to find accommodation in surrounding towns and resorts. Some people commute in from Zurich every day on the train which is a two hour journey. We stayed in a very pretty Alpine lodge some 90 minutes out of town. And when I say out of town I mean up the mountain. Our group lead had hired a minivan with drivers. Our Davos bus left each morning down the mountain into town on terrifying roads in a route that bonded us all when we survived each journey. In our resort our views were spectacular and we overlooked a quiet ski lift. While we were there for the conference, other guests were there skiing, and we’d look at them enviously as they sailed off each morning.
- Actually, amend that last point. Many people do go skiing while at Davos. The only shops that resist the corporate refurbishment are ski and boot hire shops. Amongst all the traffic and the cars are many skiers heading out for the day.
- Boots – wear boots. The pavements are covered in snow. It is freezing – down to minus 15C at night – and it is a hilly town. There are stories every year of falls and broken bones. In fact, I would go one further: invest in crampons. These are like slippers that go over your shoes and provide some traction in the snowy sidewalks. Most people wear boots inside events too unless you are uber organised and carry your loofahs/heels in a bag. A word of caution: crampons are super on the sidewalk but inside on tiles they are vey devil. Either take them off or walk very slowly. Some restaurants have signs saying no spikes allowed.
- The very best marketing prize goes this year to Zurich. They set up their corporate headquarters in Davos giving out brightly coloured blue woolly hats. Our first morning walking the promenade saw lots of people wearing them. I had huge hat lust and was contemplating grabbing one off a passer-by. The advice given to me was to only grab a hat off someone that I could beat in a fight or outrun. Before such extreme measures were implemented, we spotted the source of the free hats and got our own with no one injured in the process.
- Security. Given the number of important officials, politicians and celebrities around, the security is very tight. Lots of armed police and check points in and out of the town. You have to carry your passport with you at all times. Then there is the issue of gaining security passes to go into the main hotels. Let me just say it is very complex and quite expensive. Ask me again if you want to know how to do it but for first timers it is another thing to drive you crazy.
- Official news. Most of the hoi polloi do not get anywhere near the headline guests. It is better to watch the news each night to catch up on the events and speeches. Having said that, one night while we were waiting outside a hotel for our Group Van to bring us home, former UK prime minister, Tony Blair walked within one foot of me as he gained his official car.
- The main summit has many events but the fringe summit has zillions. Trying to keep track of all the talks, panels and networking events is tiring. Join a few WhatsApp groups of seasoned pros who have been there before to get an idea of what is on and where these events take place. Many are held in nooks and crannies as every available piece of real estate in Davos is rented out, leased or hired by incoming companies and organisations.
- The final thing I learnt is that to really get the best out of Davos 2021 you need to start planning now. It is not meant for the casual observer. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.