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Davos Pre-Game: Something Old, Something Very New

The Super Bowl gets two weeks of full-swing hype ahead of kickoff, but at the World Economic Forumthere's a calming sense of mountain quiet until the delegates start to gather and hit the watering holes late Tuesday.

That does give the opportunity for some reconnaissance of the town and a very rare view of the empty Congress Center. The CNBC position, usually buzzing with conversations, TV output, white noise from heaters and blaring ringtones from all over the world, is practically empty.

A view of the new extension of the World Economic Forum Congress Center, with more art on display for those attending.
CNBC.com
A view of the new extension of the World Economic Forum Congress Center, with more art on display for those attending.

Travelling to Davos from Zurich is always an enjoyable challenge, provided you take the adventurous option of the train. The age of austerity is limiting the rapid helicopter option for many delegates, according to some people on the ground I spoke to. The other option, for the thrifty journalist, is sharing a minivan up the mountains.

The van has the advantage of picking you up right at the front of the airport and dropping you off right at your hotel or apartment, but after sampling that last year I reverted to the train.

As a journalist you simply meet more people that way and get a sense of what the Davos vibe might be, rather than getting two hours of office talk. (Plus you get the excitement of a six minute race from one platform in Landquardt to the other to catch a connecting train.)

This year I buttonholed an executive at UBS for a frank talk about the flesh-colored-underwear, dress-code controversy that proved so popular with our readers. Given that he was in IT, and his preferred dress code is jeans and a fleece, it provoked quite a lot of amusement inside the company as well.

Davos 2011 - See Complete Coverage
Davos 2011 - See Complete Coverage

And for about 45 minutes I got some insights into Asian growth from a Chinese hedge fund manager on the train from Zurich. Something to look for at this year's Forum, China will continue to be a growing topic in the halls and sessions, especially after the whopping 10.3 percent GDP growth it posted.

New WEF Look, More Art for the Masses

While the journey into Davos was very familiar, the Congress Center has undergone a major refurbishment. The Plenary Bar and meeting points are similar, but a whole new corridor lined with large paintings makes a much better view for those of us who can't get into the more private lounges.

Workers get the lighting fixtures mounted at the the refurbished Plenary Bar area.
CNBC.com
Workers get the lighting fixtures mounted at the the refurbished Plenary Bar area.

Off this corridor are more meeting rooms and the whole extension significantly boosts the capacity of main gathering space.

There are additions, such as a Social Networking corner - which very much lives up to its name as a small corner for the Twittersphere, and areas for young leaders and social entrepreneurs to meet.

Finishing touches look to be going on right up until the last minute, with several pieces of art still waiting to be put in place and chairs severely marked with "do not sit" signs, apparently waiting for people much more significant than the journalists or youth tour groups currently roaming the halls.