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30 Jan, 2009 21:32

Davos turning to underground party

Davos turning to underground party

RT correspondent Katerina Azarova is reporting on the back-side life of the World Economic Forum in Davos – the party that is choky for any crisis.

The Annual Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos has a slogan. “Committed to Improving the State of the World” is visible on every poster, backdrop and press release. But how dedicated can it really be when the majority of its participants could be called responsible for the very crisis they are here to battle?

For every summit held since 1971, there have also been countless media reports on the lavish parties thrown by participating companies. Champagne flowed, and the catering – well, to call it extravagant would be an understatement. Each year, everyone tried to out-do their own parties from last year. The guest lists became even more exclusive – and more coveted; the entertainment even more creative.

But the global financial crisis has wreaked havoc on world economies. And if losing billions, assets, reputations and opportunities is not a party spoiler, I really don't know what is.

So this year, the organizers of the WEF (World Economic Forum) tried to tone it down. The mood was to be sombre – and if not tee-totally sober, then at least not offering the most expensive wines and champagnes in the world.

To the outsider, it looks like a serious statement. Here we are, the business world's biggest movers and shakers – and we are shamed, humble and trying to do all we can to make the situation better.

But is that really the case?

Running the theory past my colleagues here in Davos, I was shown some A-List party invitations – and told about many others. Banks, newspapers, various international foundations – all were eager to play host – but to a very, very select crowd.

So it would appear that the Davos party has been forced underground. A resistance movement primed to fight the world's judgement.

But if the global economy certainly wasn't improving just because CEOs and public figures switched from champagne to wine and caviar to cheese, local businesses are thriving.

In addition to a great ski season (good weather, Swiss Franc cheaper than the Euro), Davos businesses are all centered around the WEF. Hotels are booked to the brim – and families are renting out rooms in their homes to journalists looking for a place to sleep.

Eduard Van De Craats, the owner of Top Secret Ski School and Shop, says this is perhaps one of the best years they've had in a long time. And this despite the fact the forum annually scares off tourists, business is booming.

“We don’t really feel the crisis here yet. And usually the Davos Forum means business is slow, but this year it’s been fantastic. I know it probably won’t stay like this, and the crisis will affect us in the end – but right now, everything is going really well”

As we stand in Eduard's shop, a group of people in ski gear show up, wanting to rent skis. Forum badges are peeking through their jackets. Ain't no mountain high enough – financial or literal.

But the hotels are arguably getting most of the buzz during this one- week gathering. And at top of the list (and of the hill) is the Hotel Belvedere.

After going through the security check (my hotel key is pronounced as 'potentially dangerous' and I’m asked to show the guards my boots, for reasons still unknown), we enter a beehive of activity. Company logos and event schedules are everywhere, guests mull by the bar with a drink, harassed-looking PAs rush about and sort things out with hotel security. I head to the reception desk and within minutes I’m speaking to Ernst Wyrsch, general manager of the haven that is the Belvedere.

“They used to be so sure of themselves, all the companies. But this year, you can tell they don’t have the answers – and they are looking for them. And they are much more concerned with the image they send out.”

Hence the switch to wine. But even so, a $1700 USD premier cru Chateau Petrus is not exactly a budget buy.

“Of course we stock, and offer, the exclusive wines and foods”, says Mr. Wyrsch. “But even though we have served it this year, the amounts companies order does not even compare to the extravagance of last year.”

He apologizes and rushes off, only to come back in a few seconds and whisper to us that Bill Clinton is about to walk past, in case we want to get a shot.

Crisis or no crisis, Ernst Wyrsch has a business to run, just like every other hotelier, restaurant or shop owner here. It’s nothing personal. But even though Davos may not be the provider of solutions for the global economy, it’s a steady inflow of cash for the locals. So they're helping someone, at least.

Too bad its not the people that needed help in the first place.

Katerina Azarova for RT