Davos diary: Polar bears, schnitzel and shuttles — personal highlights of a week at WEF

Davos diary: Polar bears, schnitzel and shuttles — personal highlights of a week at WEF

Short Url

DAVOS: The workmen are dismantling the partitioning in the Kongresszentrum, the “masters of the universe” are midway through their slap-up lunch on the Schatzalp mountain (no journalists allowed), and the final plenary sessions have been brought to a close. Davos is over for another year.

Some attendees complained that the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2023 lacked some of the glitz and glam of past years, and it is true that a number of VIP global leaders did not make the trip up the mountain. Maybe they were put off by Klaus Schwab’s gloomy pre-meeting warnings about converging “economic, environmental, social and geopolitical crisis.” Why shell out all that cash for a Davos ticket if you are just going to get depressed?

Despite this air of impending doom, I had my usual enjoyable, informative and stimulating week in the Swiss Alps. I’ve been coming since 2012, and have only missed one WEF in that time — the spring event last May. I often tell people who have never been that it is a bit like being in university again — learning things all day and having fun all night.

Here are a few of the memorable experiences of the week:

THE DAVOS SHUTTLE: I usually stay not in Davos itself, but in the prettier Alpine resort town of Klosters. It has nicer hotels and restaurants, I believe. To get to and from Davos, 15 km away, the WEF lays on a shuttle service, free to anyone with a WEF badge. The journey is a good way to meet people, chat casually about events at the meeting, and eavesdrop on other people’s conversations. My favorite “overheard on the Davos shuttle” of the week came from the Indian delegate who scanned the freezing mountainside and commented to his colleague: “It’s a bit like Kashmir without the bullets.”

Despite this air of impending doom, I had my usual enjoyable, informative and stimulating week in the Swiss Alps

Frank Kane

THE ALPINA GRIZZLIES: Outside the excellent Alpina Hotel in Klosters, the management has situated half a dozen full-size polar bears (fake, of course, but realistic). Several years ago, in a blizzard, I leaned casually on the biggest one of these “creatures” while enjoying a small cigar in the cold night air — only for the bear to topple over, taking me with it. The embarrassment of being watched by people in the bar while I grappled with a polar bear on the treacherous icy surface has never left me, and I have to ritually pat the bear on each visit.

UKRAINE AND OLENA ZELENSKA: While Al Gore’s rant against the oil industry was certainly memorable, the best speech of the week, in my view, was the passionate and emotional appeal by the first lady of Ukraine for greater aid to help her country fight the Russian invaders. Lump in throat time. And reinforced by a visit to the Ukraine House on the Promenade, where the exhibits were traumatic and disturbing, under the direction of the wonderful Ulyana Khromyak. Their steadfast determination is inspirational.

THE KALBSCHNITZEL AT THE SILVRETTA HOTEL: This seems to be something of a speciality in the Graubunden region in which Davos and Klosters are located — tender veal filet that has been marinated and deep fried in breadcrumbs. Absolutely delicious and highly recommended, as is the Silvretta itself, one of the oldest hostelries in Klosters which treated me to a very comfortable time, with a fantastic view from my balcony over soaring snowy Alpine peaks.

THE PROMINENT MIDDLE EAST PRESENCE: It was a record turnout by delegates from the region, with some extremely high-level policymakers and business executives in attendance. All countries of MENA were well represented, but it was no surprise that the most prominent were the two largest economies, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Special mention to Princess Reema bint Bandar, Saudi ambassador to Washington, for her starring role on the excellent panel about the Kingdom’s soaring economy.

STILL TO COME: THE MEDIA FAREWELL DINNER: At time of writing (mid-afternoon on Friday) this is still a couple of hours away, but I have no doubt it will be the usual enjoyable bash in the Central Sport Hotel. It’s a chance to say “auf wiedersehen” to the very helpful WEF media team, and to colleagues from around the world who I only ever see at Davos. The fondue will be flowing.

Frank Kane is an award-winning business journalist based in Dubai. Twitter: @frankkanedubai


Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view