The World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos has drawn to a close, and the throngs of attendees are hopping their trains, driverless cars, jets, space shuttles, and more to begin the sojourn home. If you haven’t been following the steady stream of tweets, posts, and other dispatches detailing every second of Davos, here’s an overview: five days, one postcard-ready Swiss town, and 2,600 scions of business, politics, and technology gathered to discuss the world’s problems (and solutions). Where else could you witness Bill Gates rub shoulders with Charlize Theron, crash Derek Jeter’s coffee meeting with Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi, and then steal Tony Blair’s seat at a lecture on neurochemistry and computers? (Well, ok, maybe the TED conference. Or the TEDMED. Or TEDGLOBAL—you get the drift.) Each year, Davos attendees come from around the world for invigorating discussions, unique networking events, singular exposure to a vast array of new ideas…and parties.
Davos is intended to be a gathering of the most powerful, innovative, and yes, wealthy people in the world. But at its heart, this most intimidating of settings is still just a conference, filled with people who wish to socialize and interact. So we can’t help but wonder—how does romance fare at the conference? Is there a hookup scene? Do the social dynamics of the rich and powerful really differ so much from the rest of us? We spoke to a few attendees to get a sense of the Davos vibe.
Last year brought tales of wild parties, with Zuckerbergs dancing on tables and cash-fueled bacchanalia. This year the mood seemed less revelrous, particularly after two of the most exclusive gatherings—Accel Partners and the Google Party—were cancelled.
But as far as the social scene goes, what we found was comforting, in that it confirmed our hypothesis: the dynamics at Davos are basically the same as the dynamics of any other group of human beings. There’s a firm established hierarchy—delegates with badges (the ultimate cool kids, with full access to all events, possible speaking engagements, and companies shelling out $40,000 for them to attend), the journalists (they get a pass from being ranked, since they’re there to watch everybody else—they also tend to stick together) and then the rest of the student body—so-called “white badges” because their badge only allows them access to the areas outside the main Congress Center. According to one Davos regular, “something about the [front of] these badges always looks slightly sleazy. So most people turn their badges over, making them ‘white badges.’” Davos participants—they’re self conscious, just like us!
Groups also tend to segregate by age: “There’s a divide between the Young Global Leaders (under 40) and old (over 40),” said one source, a tech CEO who has attended the last five Davos conferences. “The young and old only mix at the McKinsey party, and somewhat in the Piano Bar.”
Within each tier, a “social” crowd develops, tending to gravitate to any/every party and dominating the late-night scene. (Sound familiar?) Still, the parties are filled with plenty of PG revelry—in other words, if you just want to dance and cut loose with your friends, you’ll have the opportunity. “There’s a bizarrely non-sexual attitude in Davos,” the tech CEO said. “You can dance around with men or women with abandon…but it’s only the older delegates who seem to push to take someone up to a hotel room.” And there’s always the possibility that a totally unique moment will occur—at this year’s PricewaterhouseCoopers party, several young neurochemistry stars performed live brainscans on partygoers in the middle of the club.
If you do meet someone at Davos, having a fling can be a tricky juggle of logistics. Hotel rooms are a precious commodity, generally reserved for the higher echelons (in both net worth and age) and many attendees resort to sharing apartments and bunking wherever they can. As the tech CEO put it, “How can you invite someone home with you if you’re crashing on a couch and two other people are sleeping in the same room?”
Despite the real estate hurdles, some managed just fine—one global shaper was overheard bragging to her friends that she’d gone home the previous night with the CEO of one of the world’s most prominent web startups. “Davos is a great place [for a fling],” one attendee said. “The weather this year was magnificent, the views spectacular. Most of your food and drink is paid for by corporate hospitality. The women are well turned out, and the guys are at least making an effort in suits.”
So group dancing, cute people, a clear pecking order, and the occasional late-night proposition. Sounds enough like a high-school dance to make us feel better about ourselves.