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WEF summit – a mixed blessing

Every year, debate rages in Switzerland as to whether the World Economic Forum summit is worth the trouble.

Critics say unruly protests and the costs of protecting the world’s most important people outweigh the benefits. But that view discounts the kudos – and profit – generated by the event.

This year’s security bill for the WEF summit stands at SFr13million ($9.5 million) – most of it funded by the Swiss taxpayer.

In the resort of Davos itself, which stretches along a long valley, hundreds of police will be on duty to keep planned anti-globalisation protests in check.

Alongside them will be 2,000 soldiers, while in the skies above two Swiss air force jets will enforce a no-fly zone with shoot-to-kill orders.

In addition, the Swiss authorities have imposed travel bans on some 100 known-activists – and will screen all visitors en-route to Davos.

All the fuss has some locals wondering whether it is worth it. A Davos politician has called for a vote by residents on whether future summits are welcome.

For many ordinary Swiss, Davos represents a party for the world’s powerful – a forum for the elite to bask in each other’s glow, far from the wrenching realities of poverty, inequality and economic uncertainty.

Big spending visitors

But the benefits, particularly to Davos, also need to be considered.

Local hotels, restaurants and pubs await the arrival of the annual WEF caravan with all the relish of a Swiss farmer preparing to milk his most productive cow.

Big spending CEOs, well-heed arts-world types and the legions of lesser participants inject millions into the local economy.

In 2001 – the last time the summit was held in Davos – visitors generated a turnover of SFr41.8 million, more than half of it in the town itself.

Consider also that many over-booked CEOs visit the remote Graubünden valley (which doesn’t even have an airport) partly because of a fear of being left out.

In its three decades of life, the forum summit has become a much-loved opportunity to hunt new ideas and close delicate deals.

Kudos in the snow

Behind the formal functions, seminars and discussions, a flurry of informal gatherings takes place in and around the Davos Conference Centre.

For those who are invited, there is the cachet attached to being on the WEF’s exclusive membership list – an honour that costs SFr30,000 per company.

And for those who miss out, exclusion is a sign that they are still to make the grade for what has been described by one observer as a “kind of central committee for the 21st century”.

swissinfo, Jacob Greber

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR