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New York, Davos… Whistler?

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The World Economic Forum is returning to Davos for its annual meeting in 2003, but where it goes after that has yet to be decided.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki last week both made strong pitches to forum delegates to return to New York – overt invitations that shocked some of the more discreet Swiss.

Officially the forum moved to New York this year to show solidarity with the city following the Sept. 11 attacks. New York, which organized the forum in just two months, welcomed an opportunity to show the world it had recovered from the events of Sept. 11.

New Yorkers also welcomed the estimated $100 million in revenue for the city that forum delegates generated.

The City That Never Sleeps relishes its standing as one of the world’s great centres of industry, entertainment, diplomacy and opportunity. A private dinner for 200 invited forum delegates, with Elton John serenading them through the evening for a reported $1 million fee, fit with New York’s image. It may not fit with the Euro-centric World Economic Forum.

Many delegates at this year’s meeting welcomed the return to Davos next year. The Swiss resort allows for a more relaxed meeting, smaller in scale and with fewer outside distractions.

"Davos and New York are not comparable," said a Swiss woman who represents Compaq at the forums. "At Davos there are lunches on the mountains, skiing, not so many distractions, and everyone is in the same building."

In Davos, the Congress Center holds all forum sessions, as well as the media. In New York, most members of the media were not allowed into the Waldorf-Astoria, where the forum took place. The schedule of seminars and presentations was also more intense in New York, which meant delegates had to pick and choose which sessions they attended.

There was also a sentiment among many participants that the forum would be better served if it took place somewhere other than on U.S. soil. The U.S. position as the world’s only superpower is already paramount, the argument went, and by having the forum in New York it was an opportunity for the U.S. to promote its policies.

Sessions in which Secretary of State Colin Powell and Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill declared that the United States would follow its own course to solutions of international problems such as terrorism, even if that angered allies, exemplified some people’s concerns.

But there have also been concerns about the forum in Davos. Some of the left-leaning Swiss political parties continue to oppose the World Economic Forum. At the 2001 annual meeting images of fierce protests, clashes with police and a town protected by razor wire were shown around the world.

Last year forum representatives looked at whether Whistler was capable of holding the meeting, and decided it was. But Whistler wasn’t sure, and it wasn’t ready.

Davos has since re-considered the World Economic Forum and decided it would welcome it back. A committee has come up with a new plan to host the forum that rejects the bunker scenario and describes Davos as a "playing field," a place of non-violent but critical engagement between the World Economic Forum and anti-globalization protesters.

The plan focuses on making Davos an arena for information and dialogue for a much broader range of ideas on globalization, all done under a common set of rules.

A Spirit of Davos Support Foundation has also been established, backed by three levels of government, which will provide some funding for developing and managing program content, events and projects.

Davos has also approved a plan to renovate its Congress Center and the federal government is now providing financial assistance for security, something the town previously had to pay for on its own. And the town is encouraging investors to build more first class accommodation for conferences like the World Economic Forum.

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