World Economic Forum drops Davos as venue for 2021 meeting

The next Davos will not be in Davos. 

The World Economic Forum, whose base in the Swiss Alpine ski resort has become shorthand for its annual meetings each January, had already told the executives, environmentalists and world leaders who usually attend that Covid-19 had forced it to push back its next event to May 2021.

On Wednesday the organisation disclosed that it would also move its meetings to a lower altitude setting.

The WEF, founded by Klaus Schwab 50 years ago, has chosen two sites on opposite sides of Lake Lucerne, between which dignitaries willing to resume face-to-face networking will shuttle by boat and funicular railway. 

Big public meetings will take place at KKL Luzern, the Lucerne Culture and Congress Centre in the town. Smaller workshops will be at Bürgenstock Resort, a 383-room hotel and spa 500 metres above the lake which bills itself as “compact and secure” and was once frequented by movie stars such as Sophia Loren and Audrey Hepburn.

The WEF, which has a mission of “improving the state of the world”, decided to move venues because it expects less than a third of the 3,000-3,500 people who typically come to its annual meetings to attend May’s event, it said. 

Lucerne also offers a shorter, direct train connection to Zurich airport, the forum said.

The organisation last changed the venue for the annual meeting in January 2002, when WEF participants descended on New York in a show of support after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the US. 

The WEF’s annual meeting has become a test case of executives’ willingness to resume business travel during a pandemic. Corporate travel has remained at depressed levels even as leisure travel has begun to pick up, leaving airlines, hotel owners and conference organisers concerned about the outlook for their industries.

In its statement announcing the planned move to Lake Lucerne, the forum acknowledged the continued uncertainty over whether Covid-19 will have abated sufficiently for its planned discussions on what it dubs “the great reset” to happen.

“The meeting will take place as long as all conditions are in place to guarantee the health and safety of participants and the host community,” it said.

The forum still plans to hold digital-only “Davos Dialogues” in January, at which global leaders will virtually “share their views on the state of the world in 2021”. It added on Wednesday that it hoped to be back in the Swiss mountains for its 2022 annual meeting. 

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