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Davos Awaits World Forum’s Return

February 1, 2002

DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) _ Helicopters aren’t buzzing up and down the narrow valleys to Zurich airport. Banquet managers at the luxury hotels have time on their hands and the upscale shops aren’t so crowded.

The glitter has gone to New York this year, and the home of the World Economic Forum for its first 31 years is having to adjust to being just an Alpine ski resort.

``During the World Economic Forum we felt we were at the center of the world,″ said Christine Jakober, manager of Bucherer jewelers, whose show window features a diamond ring for $11,500 and a similarly priced Piaget platinum watch.

Davos’ tourism officials, hotel managers and shopkeepers hope that when the forum comes back next year, the town will permanently regain its annual role as the world’s jet set capital for a week. But there are fears the forum may start going to other spots in alternate years, and even New York is pitching to keep it full time.

``We should do our skiing in Switzerland; this is the place to come″ for the forum, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at the opening ceremony in Manhattan on Thursday night.

Ernst Wyrsch, general manager of Davos’ five-star Steigenberger Belvedere, where President Clinton stayed in 2000, found Bloomberg’s pitch alarming. ``We hope he’s only joking.″

Wyrsch said he had been able to fill most of his hotel’s rooms after the forum’s organizers decided in November to hold this year’s event in New York, partly in solidarity for the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

``The loss we have is we’re missing 190 banquet events,″ Wyrsch said, estimating the switch to New York cost the Belvedere about $1.2 million.

Michael Caflisch, marketing director at the Davos Tourism Office, said the occupancy rate at Davos hotels for what would have been the forum’s run vary widely, between 30 percent and 80 percent.

Therese Fernandes, desk manager at the three-star Ochsen Hotel, said her business is way down from last year. ``Normally we’re full. This week we are half. Next week only 20 percent.″

Wyrsch said the people of Davos might have begun to take the forum for granted, grumbling about the protests and security measures that had started to increase in recent years.

``But when they took it away, public opinion changed immediately, and the Swiss regret it,″ he said.

Hella Schmidt, shopping for groceries with her 5-year-old son, said the disruption caused by the forum ``was a bit of hassle, but it was only one week. In the end it’s good for Davos.″

The absence of the forum has rippled through the valley.

Helicopters that ferried the rich and famous to and from Davos now are largely grounded.

Carmen Dietrich, office manager of Express Taxi AG, said her company’s helicopters made 20-30 flights a day during the forum, at an average fare of $320. ``Now it’s four times,″ she said. ``That’s a lot of money that we’re missing.″

The head chef of the Buffalo Grill, Heinz Huebscher, said he had seen a drop in business even though ``we mostly get the tourists″ and not the forum’s big-money participants.

Hans Meng, the owner of a Davos cutlery store featuring top-quality knives, had a quick answer when asked about the impact of losing this year’s forum: ``Bad.″

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