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How Davos Brings the Global Elite Together

In 1987 the organization was renamed the World Economic Forum, and its annual conference was well enough known to be referred to simply as Davos. The conference has been the site of several historic meetings, including two in 1989: the first ministerial-level meeting between North and South Korea, and another between the leaders of East and West Germany.

As the prestige of the conference grew, more politicians, thought leaders and celebrities began attending the event.


Xi Jinping, the president of China, is attending the conference for the first time this year, making him the first Chinese president to attend the event. Credit Luis Hidalgo/Associated Press

Who Attends the Conference?

More than 2,500 people will attend this year’s conference from 90 different countries. Most of the participants are corporate executives, but more than two dozen heads of state and government are expected to attend.

Theresa May, the prime minister of Britain, and Xi Jinping, president of China, are attending the conference for the first time this year. Mr. Xi is the first Chinese president to attend the event.

But even world leaders are often seen craning their heads for a glimpse at the boldfaced names in attendance. The singer Shakira and the actor Forest Whitaker are to receive awards this year. Expected attendees include Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook; the actor and activist Matt Damon; the Formula One driver Nico Rosberg; and Jack Ma, the Chinese billionaire and founder of Alibaba.

Though gender equality is often discussed at the forum, just 17 percent of last year’s participants were women, according to the forum.

How Are These People Kept Safe?

All of those dignitaries need security. During the conference, Davos transforms into a veritable fortress. Roadblocks restrict traffic on the city’s main streets and checkpoints spring up outside each venue. At the Congress Center, where the main panels take place, and at each hotel that hosts parties and talks, attendees pass metal detectors, armed guards and beneath the watchful eyes of sharpshooters.



Lake Zurich


Lake Geneva

In the past, the conference was targeted by protesters associated with the anticapitalist Occupy movement. In 2013, members of the Ukrainian activist group Femen were arrested after a topless demonstration.

The Swiss government estimated it will spend 8 million Swiss francs, about $ 8 million, on security, but said that number could increase if there were a credible threat to the conference.

“Switzerland is still not regarded as a priority target for jihadist terrorists,” the Federal Council said on its website. “On the other hand, even on Swiss soil, the interests of states participating in the military coalition against the so-called Islamic State face an increased threat.”

Is It as Elitist as It Sounds?

The annual meeting runs on a tiered system of colored badges denoting just how important one is, or is not. White badges are for attendees able to attend any official event and make full use of the forum’s facilities. Orange badges are reserved for the 500 journalists who cover the forum, but are not allowed at some parties. Other badges, like purple ones, denote technical or support staff and limit their holders to a few areas.

If that system were not complicated enough, local hotels like the Belvedere and the InterContinental often sell their own badges to the bankers and consultants who descend upon Davos — but not the forum itself — to strike deals and chat up clients. These souls camp out at the hotels, renting rooms for business meetings by day and soiree hopping at night.

What About the Parties?

Most of the events center on talking. But beyond lectures and panel discussions, the agenda also features more esoteric attractions. One notable event is a simulation of a refugee’s experience, where Davos attendees crawl on their hands and knees and pretend to flee from advancing armies.

It is one of the most popular events every year.

The theme of this year’s conference is “Responsive and Responsible Leadership.” But attendees like to play as hard as they work.

There are several official cocktail receptions, but the action really lies in a galaxy of events hosted by corporations. Some are small, intimate dinners that feature the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Bono.

Others are dazzling affairs: JPMorgan Chase, for example, has previously taken over the Kirchner Museum Davos for drinks with its chief executive, Jamie Dimon, and Tony Blair, the former British prime minister.

Google’s annual party at the InterContinental Hotel has become the hottest ticket in town. The investor Anthony Scaramucci, now an adviser to Donald J. Trump, for years has hosted a reception at the famed Hotel Europe featuring a sometimes eye-popping list of high-end Champagne and Bordeaux red wine.

A more recent up-and-comer is hosted by Salesforce.com, a business software maker, whose chief, Marc Benioff, is one of the forum’s most ardent boosters. Last year’s Salesforce party included Mr. Benioff flying in scores of fresh flower leis and a band from Hawaii, as Eric Schmidt of Google and other tech notables danced in a corner.

Several years ago, Sean Parker of Napster and Facebook fame, hosted an over-the-top gathering that featured stuffed animal heads shooting laser beams out of their eyes. And the Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska has thrown opulent gatherings at a nearby villa where the Champagne flowed freely

For a nightcap, the Davos crowd traditionally retires to the Tonic Bar at Hotel Europe, sipping cocktails while the forum fixture Barry Colson leads the crowd in Billy Joel singalongs.

Source: NYT > World

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