10 Things You Didn’t Know About Davos
1. It isn’t really called Davos
While everyone calls it Davos, the January get-together is actually the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF). Davos is simply the name of the Swiss mountain resort where the summit is located.
The town’s affiliation with the glitzy festival means plenty of competing gatherings have sought to capitalize on the name’s cachet, with a proliferation of conferences claiming to be “Davos” this or that.
But last year when a Saudi investment conference was dubbed “Davos in the desert” around the time of the controversial death of prominent government critic Jamal Khashoggi, WEF finally hit back. It warned it would use “all means to protect the Davos brand against illicit appropriation”.
2. It isn’t just a conference
The World Economic Forum is a not-for-profit group with the ambitious mission of improving the state of the world.
In reality, most people aren’t there for the sessions but to network relentlessly. Being in a fairly tiny room for four days allows corporate executives, politicians and journalists to have an enormous number of meetings in an effectively short period of time with no travel needed.
3. Meetings can lead to action
Forum founder Klaus Schwab began the annual shindig in 1971 to address global management activities. Now WEF has a much wider remit, but critics contend that it’s still just a talking shop. Yet Davos’ remote environment gives leaders a unique opportunity to meet away from the glare of the general public.
4. Only businesses pay to attend
The only attendees who pay to attend WEF are companies; all other attendees are invited free of charge.
The charge for companies is 27,000 Swiss francs (£20,900; €23,800) per person. But that’s not all.
Attendees must also be a member of the World Economic Forum. There are a number of tiers of membership, starting at 60,000 Swiss francs per year to a whopping 600,000 Swiss francs to be a so-called “strategic partner”.
5. Conference passes are color-coded
Improving inequality is still a major talking point at Davos, but WEF runs its own very unequal structure defined by a complex caste system of colored badges. Yes, you may be in the same location as Prince William or the New Zealand PM but it’s unlikely you’ll run into them in the loo.
6. There are a lot of men
In the 49 years since Davos began holding its annual meetings, men have vastly outnumbered women despite a quota system for large companies that must bring one woman for every four men. “Davos Man” has now become a term in its own right, synonymous with the stereotypical attendee: a strong and affluent elite male-whom many see as out of contact with the real world. Last year, 22% of attendees were female. It’s not great, but the percentage of women has doubled since 2001.
7. It’s not a young crowd
It takes time to claw your way to the top and wangle a Davos invite and the average age of attendees illustrates this: it’s 54 for men and 49 for women. There are several exceptions. At only 16, South African wildlife photographer Skye Meaker is the youngest participant this year, while the oldest is 92-year-old broadcaster Sir David Attenborough.
8. It has its own language
Complicated corporate jargon is a hallmark of the conference. What anyone actually means can be mystifying, even to the seasoned WEF watcher. Even the theme of each year’s conference is often incomprehensible.
9. It’s like flying without the actual flying
Security is appropriately tight given the high profile of many of the attendees. For any roof, there are snipers and a safe zone you need to have the right pass to reach them. You have to remove your coat each time you reach the main conference center, check your laptop and bag, and then put it all on again. It’s like going through airport screening endlessly, without ever flying anywhere.
10. Everyone loves a free bobble hat
Each year Zurich Insurance sends bright blue knitted hats from a hole in the wall that you can help yourself to. So literally everyone does. Months later when you see someone wearing one of them, you will discreetly smile at each other.