Davos: shadowy summit or ski holiday with suits?

Every winter, the World Economic Forum takes place in Switzerland. Its aim? Solving global problems. That and skiing, schmoozing and star-spotting, says Samuel Muston

When Klaus Schwab founded the World Economic Forum in 1971, he chose Davos, in the Swiss Alps, for two reasons. Firstly, because he'd glimpsed the construction of a sparkly new conference centre from a nearby swimming pool. And secondly, because he was attracted to its relative isolation. By the time the helicopters and limousines have deposited all the attendees tomorrow, however, it won't feel so isolated.

The Forum, like many a middle-aged individual, has grown fatter and more comfortable in its 43 years of life. Admittedly, the conference centre is the same, if a little bigger, and some of the hotels from back then soldier on, but the event is on a much glitzier, and vastly bigger, scale today.

In 1971, 444 delegates attended. Today, the press delegation alone runs to 500, with a further 2,500 guests invited by the forum, whose motto, Entrepreneurship in The Global Public Interest, does nothing to endear it to anti-globalisation protesters who will also converge en masse on the resort.

Despite the placards, participants will travel from all corners of the globe to the four-day event, which has variously been described as the "high temple of stateless, free-market capitalism" and "the best dinner party in the world".

The global economy may be recovering, but the questions posed at Davos are as challenging as ever

Politicians will rub shoulders with dotcom billionaires; Nobel prize-winning economists will jump on the shuttle bus with journalists. Everyone is, officially speaking, invited to chew the fat on this year's big theme: "The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business". But as one former Davos attendee says, "it as much about networking as seminars".

Now the word "networking" is, as often as not, accompanied by another word: "partying". And Davos is no exception. Usually, the hot ticket is the Google party, although last year the biggest, most opulent shindig was thrown by a person: Sean Parker, the man behind Napster. As well as endless champagne, there was music from the DJ Mark Ronson.

Parker had, for reasons best known to himself, also festooned the club with moose heads with lasers in place of eyes. A well-known economics editor who attended the party remembers the musician John Legend playing a set. "Parker and a coterie of his friends sat on a table right next to Legend on the stage", he says. "They lounged like Roman Emperors, everyone else forced to look up at them. That is very much the Davos style."

What is also very Davos is alcohol. Not just at the endless lunches and dinners, held in five-star hotels such as the Hotel Seehof or the Sheraton, but at the "nightcap evenings", too, where star guests take open questions from (often well-lubricated) guests.

In fact, by the end of the four days, attendees returning home often have the same grey-about-the-gills look of those who've attended Glastonbury Festival. Some health-conscious bigwigs will take the opportunity to get some skiing done. One journalist, formerly of this newspaper, always seemed to come back from his annual jaunt there with a (skiing-related) dislocated shoulder.

For the less sporty, there is another activity: star-spotting. Although big-name attendees are thinner on the ground than they were in the boom years, you will still see the odd film star or pop singer. Charlize Theron attended in 2013, and was honoured for her work in Aids prevention. Angelie Jolie and Brad Pitt have also turned up, with Jolie designing a tattoo for Pitt on a night "when we didn't have anything to do". Mick Jagger snubbed David Cameron there in 2012 but is remembered fondly for dancing to "Moves Like Jagger" at a party.

If one is looking for more worthy activities, however, they can be found in abundance at the main conference centre. There are scores of them on everything from the "China Context" to a "3D scanning workshop".

Some, however, could be in better taste. "A Day in the Life of a Refugee: Exploring Solutions for Syria", a "powerful simulation … of the struggles and choices that refugees are facing to survive," has been denounced by campaigners as "poverty porn".

Still, one can always indulge in a little competitive lanyard checking. Everyone who attends is required to wear a badge denoting their level of access, and so their influence. "You get a lot of people breaking off conversations to speak to more important people when they arrive, or looking down at the colour of your badge," says a past attendee.

But the main complaint is not boredom or booze, celebrity-obsession or the $40,000 (£24,000) cost of attending. No, the real thing that rankles is the weather. "It's bloody freezing," those who have attended all seem to say, "and you still have to dress smartly."

So there you have it. Davos is less a shadowy summit of world power brokers and more like a ski holiday with suits.

Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

    £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own