From white badges to luaus: 5 things to know about Davos

From the colour of the access badges to the writer Thomas Mann, here are five things to know about the once-a-year business blowout.

FILE: The annual World Economic Forum is held in Davos, Switzerland. Picture: World Economic Forum.

BRUSSELS, Belgium - The World Economic Forum in Davos is a can't-miss stop for the global elite, but who would have guessed that its origins go back to the European revolutions of the 19th century?

From the colour of the access badges to the writer Thomas Mann, here are five things to know about the once-a-year business blowout.


Davos is shorthand for the World Economic Forum (WEF), which was founded in 1971 by German business professor Klaus Schwab as a way for European corporate leaders to learn from their US peers.

Political leaders started attending later in the 1970s, and since then it has morphed into an annual jamboree where the global elite -– joined by intellectuals, activists, celebrities and sometimes protestors -- sit on panels and debate the world's problems.


Dressed in business suits and hiking boots, attendees converge on the Congress Centre, a concrete bunker about half-way down the town's Promenade, where access is strictly limited with the area fenced off and patrolled by highly armed police.

Life in the Congress Centre is ruled by the colour of your badge (except for actual ministers and leaders who cruise the halls badgeless). In Davos, you are white, orange, purple or green.

White badges open all doors and are generally given out to corporate executives, government officials and media leaders.

Holders of white badges can attend the hundreds of sessions, lunches, dinners and night-caps, as long as they sign up through a dedicated app beforehand. White badge life is strictly off the record.

Most journalists operate with the orange badge, which offers limited access to the Congress Centre and surrounding hotels. Still, reporters get unparalleled proximity to the world's most powerful with the orange badge but are blocked entry to VIP rooms and special meeting areas.

Purple badges are for technical workers, while green badges go to the entourage of top officials.


Davos has a reputation for being one crazy party, despite the ponderous themes on the official programme.

The fun takes hold in swanky chalets, many former sanitoriums, that line the promenade with the more exclusive addresses discreetly tucked behind pine trees higher up the hill.

Corporations and emerging nations wanting to influence host dinners and cocktail parties that can go on into the small hours of the morning.

In 2018, San Francisco cloud company Salesforce held a Hawaii luau and lined up 90s rockers The Killers as entertainment. Google parties were the hottest ticket a decade ago, but have since become more studious affairs.

Many events take place at the Belvedere hotel, whose halls become a lobbying labyrinth of corporate suites, cocktail parties and secret dinners, where executives, public servants and leading journalists exchange bon mots and business cards.


Davos first became a resort destination in the 19th century thanks to a German asylum-seeker who crossed into Switzerland to evade an anti-radical clampdown by German authorities in the wake of the 1848 revolution.

A refugee, Alexander Spengler was offered a job as a country doctor in this lost Alpine valley and soon noticed that local farmers could clamber up mountains and toil land without losing breath or breaking a sweat.

From that, Spengler would launch a health care revolution, turning Davos into a Belle Epoque place-to-be where well-heeled Europeans took the long road from Zurich to treat tuberculosis and other lung diseases, which killed thousands of every year.


One visitor to the rarified air was Katia Mann, wife of "Death in Venice" author Thomas Mann, who spent months sitting on the spa terraces bundled up in blankets, receiving treatment.

Thomas Mann used the experience to write "The Magic Mountain", his allegory of Europe's pre-Great War society, published in 1924 and considered to be one of the greatest works of world literature.

Hans Castorp, the hero of the novel, heads to Davos to visit a sick cousin but gets entangled in sanatorium life and its motley cast of characters, staying on the mountain for seven years before throwing himself tragically into fighting in the trenches of the First World War.