Davos: the new global context with a free lunch or cocktail on the side

Attending the World Economic Forum can be a costly business, but does it have to be?

The over-arching theme at Davos this year is ‘The new global context’. Photograph: EPA

The over-arching theme at Davos this year is ‘The new global context’. Photograph: EPA

 

Attending the World Economic Forum at Davos is tough if you’re not a one-percenter.

Companies pay about 600,000 francs (€607,560) for a pass that gets several executives in the door. Travel, hotels and meals can easily double that amount.

There’s a sneakier option for those on a tighter budget: If you can stump up 110 francs for a round-trip train ticket from Zurich and 50 francs for a gold badge issued by the forum, you can get into lots of parties during the evening hours.

Of course, it’s not quite that simple. You need to be invited to at least one fete by one of the dozens of corporations hosting events, and the forum doesn’t hand out gold badges to just anyone. But if you can, say, manage to wrangle an invite from Deutsche Bank or Google, you can get into the hotels where everyone from Bank of America to BuzzFeed offer booze, banter and, sometimes, bands.

There’s also the not inconsiderable matter of getting past security at the individual parties, but there are several internet chat groups (at least one has more than 200 members) devoted to tips on that front.

Straight to the bar

At the world’s ultimate celebration of capitalism, it seems, some people have figured out the way to maximise value is to skip the panels and head straight for the bar.

Every year, the wealthiest and most powerful people in the world trek to the Alps to sit and blab.

But a few also walk. A lot. On Wednesday, Axel Weber, the UBS chairman, says he logged 16.5 kilometers by foot. IBM chief innovation officer Bernie Meyerson did 9 km.

UBS has given Fitbit wristbands to clock every step of the people with coveted all-access white badges. As part of a promotion, the bank has pledged to donate a bicycle to a child in rural South Africa for each 6 km Davos delegates log on their devices (6 km is the distance many children in the South African countryside must walk to reach their schools, the bank says.)

As of noon on Thursday, Davos attendees had hoofed more than 3,800 km up and down the streets and corridors to meetings, hotels, and restaurants, and the bank had pledged to donate about 650 bikes.

Ideas forum

Davos is a forum for ideas, right? True, but it’s also become a leading global forum for shameless self-promotion. At the Belvedere, a five-star location perched above the town’s central promenade, parties in the ballrooms and suites every night pitch everything from Yale University to the myriad beers brewed by SAB Miller. And the hotel’s public spaces have become a massive, multifaceted billboard for corporate brands. Consultant KPMG owns the handrail up the front steps, for instance, as well as the entrance hall, where it’s sponsoring a giant screen that shows tweets about the forum.

Rival Deloitte has seized a corridor where the walls are covered with hundreds of post-it notes bearing inspirational aphorisms such as “Work is a four-letter word” or “No brain, no gain.”

The hotel has been subdivided into at least a dozen logo- laden fiefdoms. There are sections dominated by the likes of Zurich Insurance, Goldman Sachs , Audi (there’s a red SUV topped with a ski rack), and Bloomberg.

Elsewhere you’ll find Bank of America, consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers and Accenture, and many others. The hotel’s Carigiet Bar has been rebranded the Wipro Bar for the duration. Though a “Bombay Crushed” (a modified gin and tonic) would normally set you back 19 francs and a frozen mango daiquiri runs at 18 francs, this week they’re free since Wipro is picking up the tab - at least for those who manage to get in the door.

Bloomberg