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Tuesday, 5 February, 2002, 16:56 GMT
A different Davos
by BBC World's Nik Gowing

Was this still really Davos?

Or was it just another major international conference graced by big corporate and political names, this time hosted in one of New York's most renowned hotels within a stern cordon of 3,800 NYPD cops?


It was just not as convivial, intimate and, well, Swiss with that enervating backdrop of mountains and often punishing cold

As the 3,000 delegates and spouses packed their corporate gifts, exchanged their last business cards and checked out, there was no consensus.

Many for whom Davos could only be Davos just did not want to countenance the idea that the Waldorf Astoria in mid-town Manhattan was an appropriate alternative - even to show solidarity with New York after the 11 September terrorist attacks.

It was just not as convivial, intimate and, well, Swiss with that enervating backdrop of mountains and often punishing cold.

A welcome change

But for others, despite that burning wish to be invited and know you still have status, Davos itself had become a waning attraction.

A long flight - usually transatlantic. Then the inconvenience of the winding grind up the mountains.

Waldorf Astoria, New York
Davos in New York worked
Overall, the problem of being away from headquarters for too long in ageing facilities which no longer quite coped with the pressures of the forum.

And then there was the threat - again - of any anti-globalisation protesters laying siege to the town.

For some major global players, the hassle of Davos in Davos had become too much.

It hurts, but it works

In New York, once delegates had got over the unfamiliarity of the human crush in hotel corridors, the long queues for lifts, and the fact that the sought-after white delegate card often did not guarantee entry to massively oversubscribed sessions, there was a mood of more than just tolerance.

Professor Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum
Professor Schwab talked of 'exceptional times'
Davos in New York worked - at least this time around.

It was, indeed, the "exceptional location" for "exceptional times" that had inspired WEF President Klaus Schwab to switch everything to New York in barely three months.

It underlined global solidarity with the victims of terror.

But it also confirmed vividly the fragility of leadership in what the organisers labelled "fragile times".

There was humility, contrition and uncertainty among all the most powerful players. No one either claimed or gave the impression of a monopoly of wisdom or insight.

Tough times

Despite intense practical irritations this correspondent was leaving the Big Apple with an enlightened appreciation of the anxiety and soul-searching for new ideas and answers.

Tough times of uncertainty lie ahead for us all, as we reflected in our regular broadcasts and major debates on BBC World.


In the usually sedate seventh floor club, a rock band blasted the best of what the usually ageing corporate rockers wanted to hear

Despite the trappings of corporate and political power, the leaders feel as anxious as the less fortunate outside about where the solutions lie for the world recession and the global struggle against terror.

And it stretches across a massive spectrum of issues, from healthcare, to diversity, sustainability and women's rights, especially in the Muslim world.

And as a parting coup de grace, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan warned the 1,100 global corporations signed up here that they are a "global elite" more concerned with profit than social responsibility.

Up to five billion dispossessed and poor saw little or nothing of their wealth, said the Secretary General. This had to change, he warned.

So must the assumption that only the World Economic Forum matters, wherever it may take place.

Thousands of kilometres to the south of here in Porto Alegre, Brazil, there was now a rival forum that demands equal attention: the World Social Forum.

Going home?

Will Davos return to Davos?

Next year definitely. Some 92% of delegates want to return to Davos, although the return there will be dependent on conditions in the town being upgraded.

The sudden switch to New York forced the hand of the Swiss government to guarantee payment of the lion's share of security.

Alongside fat editions of newspapers like the New York Times a pathetically thin Davoser Zeitung had on its front page confirmation that the Davos Congress Center - normal home of the WEF - will be renovated to create a "brighter and friendlier atmosphere" which will be "bright and airy with a blue/bluish-green decor".

Lingering images

And the lasting memories of Davos in New York?

The understandably draconian security measures.

One morning, standing in line to be scanned and body searched, I endured the same frustrations as Canada's new Deputy Prime Minister John Manley.

He emptied his pockets and took off his wrist watch like I did.

And his scan kept beeping inexplicably, as mine did. The chairman of the German airline Lufthansa did not escape the same humiliation either.

Then there was Elton John being paid $1m to play to 200 staff and clients of the investment bank Lehman Brothers.

Inside the New York Stock Exchange, the trading floor was transformed into a massive party gig with Morrocan food from Casablanca, a taste of Asia and the rhythms of Africa.

And up in the usually sedate seventh floor club, a rock band blasted the best of what the usually ageing corporate rockers wanted to hear.

For a few hours they forgot the fragile times. But they have not gone away. Many fear they have only just have begun.

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