Davos 2014: Hosting the rich and famous
- 22 January 2014
- From the section Business
The World Economic Forum is, for most people, either an important arena in which global leaders discuss the ideas that shape the world, or, a talking shop for backslapping men in suits.
But for the Belvedere Hotel, it means more than 320 parties in five days, its 126 rooms crammed with chief executives, prime ministers and presidents, and about 35% of its annual revenue.
That means providing more than 1,500 bottles of champagne and prosecco, 1,300 mini pretzels and 1,350 chocolate-covered strawberries.
"Yesterday I welcomed 70 chief executives and heads of state," says Stefan Buchs, the area general manager.
"And I gave them all my mobile phone number in case they needed anything. I'm slightly regretting that," he jokes. "Today I'm doing it all again."
He thinks nothing of organising a helicopter transfer - that's normal.
And on Tuesday he had to hand over the general manager's office to a prominent Sheikh who needed a meeting room - that meant changing the carpets, repainting it and new pictures on the wall. All with just 12 hours' notice.
It is Mr Buchs' first year running the hotel in Davos. He got the job in July and the very next week he started planning for it.
He had to arrange pre-meetings with representatives of next year's delegates, by September he needed to have hired an extra 150 staff and by November they were beginning to plan the parties.
But however much planning goes into it, there are always last-minute problems. This year the US delegation arrival clashed with another country (he's too tactful to say which).
He doesn't quite admit that the other country had to change its plans but that's the impression I get. "Let's just say it's all good now - it's not in anyone's interest to have a clash on arrival," he says.
Of course Mr Buchs is keen to point out that the hotel's success relies on the staff, all of whom are briefed not to ask for autographs from the many dignitaries and celebrities they will encounter.
Dancing in the kitchen
The hotel's jovial sous-chef Maik Baatsch tells a story of having 20 minutes to arrange an unexpected party for 50 people. "We had 40 chefs in the kitchen, each of them made a dish for five and that was that," he tells me.
He spent Tuesday night with 20 Korean chefs preparing for the Korean party, which included the country's president, top Samsung executives and the now international popstar Psy.
Gangnam Style was danced in the kitchen - though we're not sure whether the delegates at the party did.
The thing that surprised Mr Baatsch the most? How little salt they used.
While I'm talking to him, one of his colleagues enters and confirms that new skewers for all the burgers have arrived - the last lot were just too big. It's all about the attention to detail they say.
What about difficult clients? I ask. The real prima donnas?
Yes, he says, they have difficult clients but it's their job to accommodate them. And apparently not many complain.
They provide kosher food, gluten free, lactose free and import special spices when required. As if on cue, someone comes in to ask where the salmon ordered from Canada was.
Clinton's Superbowl party
But perhaps the man who has seen the most at the World Economic Forum is Femi Beluli.
He's now the in-house technician, in charge of logistics, but he started out buttering the toast in 1987 when, he remembers, Yasser Arafat just walked around like a tourist.
"No fences, no shuttle buses, much lighter security but that all changed after 9/11," he says.
His favourite guests include Pele and Muhammad Ali. And one of his most exciting moments was when former US President Bill Clinton decided to hold an impromptu Superbowl party - giving Mr Beluli three hours' notice.
He had to secure flatscreen TVs, antennas and satellites - but couldn't get reception from the US network, so he had to speak to Austrian television in order to get the connection, and then work out how to get it in English and not German.
A switch was flicked and, hey presto, it worked.
His reward? A signed thank you letter from Bill Clinton himself.