World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2003

Tips for a Successful World Economic Forum Visit – The Voice of Experience

Authored by: Thomas Hald & Michael Falkenberg

As we enter the last quarter of 2023, the January 2024 World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos is just around the corner. The excitement and buzz of attending and supporting clients at the WEF is great but it also brings some challenges that can catch the uninitiated by surprise.

Having supported clients at the WEF in Davos for the last 19 years, we thought we would share a few of the misconceptions that we have encountered over two decades worth of experience in the hope that you will find value in them.

1.    I can just hire a 4X4 SUV and drive my client up the mountain.

Actually, no you can’t. Since 2015 the WEF strives to be carbon neutral and there are strict limitations on carbon emissions for any vehicle that needs access to the village and the conference hotels and sites. It is highly recommended to check the requirements and ensure your vendor is supplying you with the appropriate vehicles.

No less important is getting your trip set up early. There is always a shortage of high-level vehicles, the kind that your executives would expect. If you leave it too late, your executives will be riding around in a less than desirable option.

Having just one driver in WEF may be fine, however can also land you in a pickle. Here are a few scenarios that we regularly run into that require unplanned and immediate additional support.

  • When you pick up your client from the airport and discover they brought their ski equipment in addition to the carry-on their EA told you about and you cannot fit the executives and luggage into your SUV.
  • If your vehicle is involved in an accident up in Davos, even if it is just a fender bender, your vehicle and driver can be stuck for hours. You must report it to the police and wait for them on the scene. After that, there is much paperwork involved and your driver needs to remain for the duration. Also if your vehicle is damaged, you will need a replacement at very short notice.
  • Plans up on the mountain often change at the last minute, and you can have one executive who suddenly needs to go down to Zurich whilst the CEO stays up the mountain.
  • Clients can often offer colleagues a ride without letting you know and suddenly your EP agent cannot fit in the vehicle.
  • Your driver is stuck in traffic because of an accident or visiting Dignitary and cannot make pick up on schedule.

In all the above scenarios, additional vehicles and drivers are required at very short notice. Having the correct support at the WEF, a provider who has the experience and capabilities to solve challenges like the ones listed above, is of paramount importance to a smooth and successful visit.

There cannot be a scenario where a Fortune 500 CEO is unable to get where they need to go or lands up waiting on a sidewalk. Robust contingencies must be in place.

An important point to add is that it is forbidden to leave your car running, while parked or standing by, to pick up a client. If you do, a police officer will approach your vehicle and scold you for leaving the engine running. This can present a challenge as you will want the vehicle to be comfortably warm for your clients, so you need to be creative and plan ahead.

2.    Once I have my registration badge, I am good to go.

You may be good to go but the question is, where? Imagine if you will, that it is snowing outside and you are driving up to a check point with your client in the vehicle, en route to a meeting with world leaders. The officers at the checkpoint turn you away as you do not have the required badge to access that area. 

The WEF has a carefully designed color coded system that allows certain badge holders to access preassigned areas. It is critical that you know your client’s schedule and where they will need access to, prior to submitting your application and registration. The badges apply whether you are in your vehicle or on foot. If you do not have the right badge, your client will proceed without you.

Most often, EP agents and/or drivers do not have the same access badge as the Principal or executives and this is not something you can fix at the last minute. Correct planning under the guidance of experienced operators is the best way to avoid this.

3.    Parking is no problem.

Nothing about using a vehicle at the WEF is simple. There are more vehicles than there are roads and if you are not prepared, your life is going to become exponentially harder and your ability to support your client inhibited.

The first order of business is to get a parking permit from the local Rathaus. You place this permit on your dashboard, and it allows you to park in many locations in the village.

Another great tip is to download one of the local parking applications, EasyPark or ParkNow . This is easily activated when you park and means that you don’t need to have a pocket full of coins.

Having said that, never wanting to rely 100% on technology, we also recommend you have coins in the vehicle but remember they need to be Swiss Franc not Euros.

4.    Nothing is simpler than dropping off and picking up my client.

Actually, when it comes to Davos, nothing is more complicated. Consider that a quiet, picturesque village with a population of around 11,000 people suddenly becomes a bustling hub of around 30,000 powerful and influential people and their support teams. Pop-up offices are constructed, cars are bumper to bumper, restaurants are full and the atmosphere intense. And if it is snowing heavily, that just adds to the fun.

Dropping off your client at a location on schedule requires planning and a deep understanding of the roads, traffic patterns and drop off locations. You have about 5-15 seconds from when you stop until an official will tell you to move your vehicle. If your timing is off, your client will be early or late. You cannot always drive right up to the door, so you need to know where the closest drop-off points are and your client will need to walk from there.

Pick- up is even more challenging as staging areas are few and always packed and you have to know where to wait to enable you to swoop in and collect your client on time. If you arrive too early, you will be told to move on and it can then take you 30 minutes to make the loop back whilst your client stands around waiting for you. If you are late, well, don’t be late.

In the event that a pickup is mistimed, experience is the only thing that will save the situation. Drivers who are very familiar with Davos, know every short cut, nook and cranny that can expedite turnaround time and getting back to your client so they are not left standing on the sidewalk.

Communication with the clients is paramount. Most clients have been there before and understand the limitations. Ask them or their PA to text you 3 minutes before they will be at the front door so you can pull up on time. Davos is different and the clients know that. You need an open channel of communication with them. Don’t be the, “Don’t worry, I will magically be here when you need me” hero, it will not end well.

5.    I don’t have to worry about vehicles for airport transfers, my client is taking a helicopter.

There are helicopter services from Zurich airport up to Davos. It is worth noting that because of the extreme altitude, a special license is required to fly up to the Alps. Most Swiss pilots have this, but it is good to know and should be checked.

Unfortunately, you cannot rely on a helicopter transfer alone. The weather changes quickly and when the mist descends on Davos, flights are suspended, and your only alternative is vehicle transfer. So even if your client is planning on flying up, always have a vehicle contingency on hand.

Also worth noting is that Swiss registered hire vehicles, driven by EU citizens are not allowed to cross the border into France, Germany, Italy or Austria unless you have specifically stipulated this with the car hire company. Whilst you won’t be turned back at the border, you may have issues with the car rental company around VAT and other tax considerations upon return that could cost a lot of money.

6.    Fashion comes first.

While the correct attire for business meetings and interviews is essential it is also important to consider the weather and environment in Davos. Some years there is heavy snow whilst others bring blue skies with temperatures as low as -20 degrees Celsius/-4 Fahrenheit. Streets can be treacherously slippery and high heels or patent leather shoes a challenge.

Likewise, high fashion overcoats may look great but not provide the level of thermal protection you may need up in the crisp mountain air. We recommend a combination of practical and business attire. Many people will wear snow boots to walk from place to place and then change into their formal footwear upon arrival. Likewise with coats, you can leave your thermal coat with your driver or assistant but do bring one along. This is one more advantage of having a dedicated vehicle and driver that can double as your dressing room.

7.    The best Schnitzel is at the Rixoss Hotel/Fluela Hotel.

A hotly debated point. There are those who say the Hotel Dischma and others who would argue Ochsen but what is for sure is that you can get some excellent meals in Davos, just remember to make reservations in advance. 

We hope you enjoyed our article and is you have any questions or require guidance, please do not hesitate to reach out to us on [email protected]