Hundreds of hotel rooms vacant after pullout by US delegation

With the US President Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron choosing to not appear for the World Economic Forum, hotel rooms are now being freed up.
With the US President Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron choosing to not appear for the World Economic Forum, hotel rooms are now being freed up.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

GENEVA • US President Donald Trump's decision to cancel the US delegation's participation in Davos created a rare commodity days before the start of the World Economic Forum - vacant hotel rooms.

Mr Trump cancelled the planned trip of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the rest of the US delegation to the Swiss mountain resort to deal with the US government shutdown, meaning hundreds of hotel rooms are suddenly free, Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger reported.

US bookings at the event included US$231,855 (S$314,970) worth of rooms at the 3-star Madrisa Lodge in Klosters-Serneus and a booking worth US$103,935 at the 5-star Hotel Quellenhof in Bad Ragaz, the newspaper reported, citing figures from a US government database.

Rooms at the Madrisa Lodge are now available on Booking.com from tomorrow, when the forum starts, from a starting price of 2,305 Swiss francs (S$3,145) for one person.

Participation at the meeting is capped at 2,500 official guests, but thousands more descend on Europe's highest town in January because of surrounding WEF events.

Meanwhile, the droves of black limousines on the snow-covered streets of Davos are frustrating the locals of the Swiss mountain town.

In a country where the central bank chief and government ministers regularly take public transport, the failure of WEF attendees to do the same is the top complaint of the town's 11,000 residents.

 
 
 
 

They say traffic gets so snarled it becomes dangerous for children to walk to school.

The frustration also highlights the culture clash between the inhabitants of the mid-market ski resort and the overseas business, political and entertainment glitterati who rub shoulders there for a few days each January.

The four-day annual meeting is vital to local businesses and generates an estimated two million francs in tax revenue for the town. But recent local resistance to increasing funding for security suggests a level of forum fatigue has set in.

"Over the last several years, the amount of private cars and traffic in Davos has increased significantly," said Cornell professor Soumitra Dutta, a regular attendee who takes a WEF-organised bus from Zurich airport. "I am not surprised that local residents are not pleased with the congestion."

While the city bus regularly plies the main street of Promenade (transport is free), a delegate's agenda - packed full with meetings, seminars, lunches and evening parties - can make a car appealing.

"The people of Davos complain, but they also earn a lot," said Mr Joerg Grossmann, who owns a limo service in Zurich that sends about 35 cars to the WEF.

In response to the complaints, this time the authorities have built a temporary train station just below the conference centre. Mayor Tarzisius Caviezel hopes that will get more people onto public transport.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 21, 2019, with the headline 'Hundreds of hotel rooms vacant after pullout by US delegation'. Print Edition | Subscribe