By Mike Taylor
For 51 weeks of the year, the Swiss mountain village of Davos is the picture of Alpine tranquility. Brightly-dressed skiers and hikers stroll to the slopes, tourists enjoy fondue, and pampered dairy cows moo contentedly. For one exceptional week, however, more than 3,000 visitors descend on this small town for the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Annual Meeting. This WEF Annual Meeting is a four-day event that attracts the world’s political, business, and civil society elites for presentations, panel discussions, and sidebar conversations to address the most pressing issues on the global agenda. The 50th WEF Annual Meeting spotlighted sustainable growth, and Embassy Bern was there in full force to support the U.S. delegation, led by President Donald Trump, Jan. 21-24.
This was Trump’s second time at Davos, following his trip in 2018 when he became only the second sitting U.S. president to participate—after former President Bill Clinton in 2000. This year, the president was accompanied by the U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland Ed McMullen, five cabinet secretaries, the national security advisor, National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow, Senior White House Advisors Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, and Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Keith Krach.
This delegation—one of the largest to any international event—included hundreds of White House and Cabinet advance and security staff. Embassy Bern led months of preparations to plan, budget, contract, and coordinate with Swiss and WEF officials to ensure the success of this enormous logistical undertaking. Every member of the 105 American and locally employed (LE) staff members contributed, supplemented by individuals on temporary duty assignments, and Bern alumni volunteers from posts around the world.
Davos is uniquely challenging, not only in the size and scope of the U.S. delegation, but in its remote location and minimal infrastructure—Zürich is two hours away, the embassy in Bern is three and a half. Davos’ small pool of hotel rooms are taken over by WEF during the Annual Meeting week for the exclusive use of invited principals, with security and support staff fanning out to Airbnb-style apartment rentals in Davos and the surrounding towns. The two main streets are clogged with rented black sedans and blocked by security checks. Pedestrians need spiked shoes to navigate icy sidewalks, and fog makes any planned helicopter movement to or from Zurich airport notional until the weather report comes in. Restaurants and storefronts disappear, as they are transformed into corporate meeting spaces.
Embassy Bern’s committed and seasoned management team worked closely with Washington colleagues for months before WEF to negotiate funding during an uncertain budget environment. They then worked to contract and deploy a fleet of vehicles and drivers, fully-equipped control rooms, a small city’s worth of lodging, and an expansive logistical support team. Officers and LE staff from across the embassy stepped up to credential hundreds of access badges, served as control officers for Cabinet members, organized White House site and pre-advance trips. They also built information technology infrastructure, shepherded the traveling press, and coordinated security on land and in the air with Swiss police and military. The team racked up 3,000 miles ferrying equipment and supplies on the snowy roads between Bern and Davos to build their support platform. More than 60 percent of embassy staff crammed into shared apartments and makeshift workspaces in Davos two weeks prior to the event, for final planning with the White House advance. Despite the intense workload and imperfect conditions, the “One Mission, One Team” spirit prevailed as colleagues pitched in to help each other no matter what the task or what the hour—including waiting in line in a freezing cold tent to pick up delegation badges until one in the morning.
Not all of the action, however, occurred in Davos. The Defense Attaché Office (DAO) was busy at two airports in Zürich coordinating the arrival, departure, and servicing of more than 20 aircraft carrying everything from vehicles and helos to the president himself. The team worked with hundreds of counterparts in Switzerland, Germany, and the U.S. to ensure that everything went smoothly. The highlight for most of the team was witnessing the president’s arrival on Air Force One in Zürich and finally to Davos where he was greeted by McMullen and the ecstatic Mayor of Davos Tarzisius Caviezel.
The Swiss were also enthralled with the mini airshow that the traffic created. Hundreds of Swiss plane spotters gathered at the airport to watch the arrivals. The airport even arranged for special tours to view parked military aircraft such as the C-17 and the massive C-5.
“We were happy to play a role in the embassy’s whole of mission effort to support the president’s safe and successful visit to WEF and also showcase our aircraft to our Swiss hosts,” said Master Sgt. Travis Adams, a DAO team member.
Trump opened the Annual Meeting, delivering a clear and compelling case for the successful American model for sustainable economic growth. He also used his 24 hours on the ground to meet with the presidents of Switzerland, the European Commission, Pakistan, Iraq, and the Kurdistan Regional Government, as well as groups of American and global CEOs—all of which the embassy helped to support. McMullen and other Cabinet members, who stayed in Davos the full week, packed their schedules meeting with leaders of government, foundations, and multinational corporations to advance administration priorities on promoting economic security, countering malign influence by our adversaries, and encouraging investment in the American workforce.
WEF is a uniquely engagement-rich environment, with participants ranging from heads of state to tech leaders to environmental activists. Krach likened his stay in Davos to “speed dating,” noting there are few places in the world where it is possible to have such a productive span of meetings with both government and business leaders in such a short time.
When it was all over, an exhausted but exhilarated Embassy Bern celebrated at a wheels-up party hosted by McMullen at the chief of mission residence, sharing stories and ideas on how to make next year’s WEF even better. Davos is a quintessentially Swiss event, a global conversation among leaders and influencers, and Embassy Bern is proud to deliver such a productive foreign policy and relationship-building platform for U.S. participation.
Mike Taylor is the political-economic counselor at Embassy Bern.