As major events around the globe continued to be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Economic Forum (WEF) announced in June that its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, still would be held in January 2021. Under the theme of “the Great Reset,” the annual meeting would, for the first, time be a twin summit that will virtually connect world leaders gathered physically in Davos with youth and other grassroots participants in over 400 cities.
That all changed today, when the WEF announced that the annual meeting has now been rescheduled for early next summer. Particulars about when and where are still pending.
As we write this blog in August, there remain many uncertainties about how many in-person participants will travel to Davos next summer. The conditions under which they will meet and the consequences for the executive protection details that are charged with keeping their principals safe, happy and productive during the meeting are still unclear.
Understandably, corporate executives and world leaders who typically ink the Davos meeting into their January schedules years in advance might be reluctant to pencil in the 2021 dates just yet. Will COVID common sense allow people to gather physically by next summer? How? Will Switzerland’s current 1,000-person limit on event participants be lifted in October as expected? Will other countries join Scotland in removing Switzerland from their safelists as infection rates in the alpine country rise above 20 cases per 100,000 people? Will there still be the many face-to-face meeting opportunities that make Davos a must for the well-connected? What conditions will prevail? Will CEOs and others choose to participate virtually instead of physically? Right now, we just don’t know the answers to all these questions.
Early planning for vehicles and accommodations, essential for success in Davos, is complicated by uncertainties
At this time of the year, we would normally be deep into planning secure transportation for clients traveling to Davos. Lining up vehicles to move many clients to, from, and around Davos is a massive task in the most predictable of times. For example, for the 2020 meetings, we hired more than 80 cars and minibuses, almost all of which had to meet stringent environmental standards to gain access to Davos during the summit.
Although the can just got kicked another 5-6 months down the road, the situation is still unclear. In non-COVID times, these vehicles don’t sit around a parking lot waiting to be driven away at the last minute. If we want to be sure to have enough vehicles for the Davos annual meeting, we have to order months ahead. In these COVID times, even something as simple as booking vehicles has become more complicated. For one thing, the companies that we rent from have decommissioned large portions of their fleets due to weak demand. Right now, the few vehicles they do have available are many times more expensive than usual, and no one knows how many vehicles they will recommission, or when they will do so.
But there are more uncertainties regarding vehicles. Will screens be mandated to separate drivers from passengers? Will one car driver still be able to take three passengers, two in the back seat and one “riding shotgun”, or will the front seat have to remain unoccupied? Will social distancing guidelines mean that more minibuses will be required in 2021? Which vehicles will we be able to rent, and at what prices? Right now, we just don’t know. And yet, we will have to act soon – or we can be sure we won’t be able to rent anything.
Securing apartments for clients and staff during their Davos stays is another issue. Apartment owners who have for years rented their places during WEF’s annual meeting are still sitting on the fence because of the COVID situation, so availability is not clear. Another uncertainty is how many people can or should share an apartment. In non-COVID times, astronomic rental prices led to cramped conditions for many security personnel, journalists, service staff, and even corporate participants. Is it now defensible or desirable to have five people stay in a three-bedroom apartment with one bathroom? Under what conditions? If apartments can’t be used as in previous years, then where will people stay?
It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future. Sometimes you have to, anyway.
Of course, a lot can happen between now and early summer 2021, and there are many more unknowns that have the potential to radically change the entire context for WEF’s 2021 annual meeting in Davos. To mention just two possible biotech developments:
- Trials for an effective vaccine might be completed by next summer. This would let Davos and the rest of the world get back to something close to normal – assuming the vaccine will be available in sufficient quantities in time.
- Testing might become so fast, reliable, and available that results can be obtained in seconds or minutes. This would open new opportunities (and challenges) for on-the-spot testing before people are admitted to limited-access areas.
Given all the uncertainties, it’s tempting to sit on your hands until things are clearer. However, the problem with that is that inaction is not going to line up the vehicles and apartments we (might) need to serve clients.
Just as in many other risk mitigation activities, we have to make the best decisions we can based on assumptions and predictions. We do this based on what we know now, and by trying to adapt as soon as possible as things change.
Are any of you planning for Davos? How are you dealing with the uncertainties? Ping us to discuss!