DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - The Swiss Alpine town of Davos is used to celebrities and high-rollers, but even it is relishing the new challenge posed by U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to attend the World Economic Forum this month.
Trump’s visit to Davos for the annual meet-up of global political and business leaders will be the first by a sitting U.S. president since Bill Clinton came in 2000.
Trump’s policies, including his intention to exit the 2015 Paris climate accord and his “America First” policy, may not sit well with all of Switzerland, which backs the global climate pact and whose economy relies on global trade.
This has prompted some critics to suggest Trump’s polarizing persona could resurrect the violent anti-WEF protests seen in the early 2000s. An online petition is circulating telling Trump he is not welcome.
Still, the tenor in Davos this week was upbeat, with many confident that a robust security contingent — up to 5,000 soldiers if necessary alongside about 1,000 police — can handle any furor surrounding Trump’s presence.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” said Ernst Wyrsch, who was director of the hotel where Clinton stayed during his WEF visit and now heads the region’s hotel association.
“Davos, for at least a couple of days, will be at the center of the world.”
While dignitaries come each year — British Prime Minister Theresa May and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping made the trek to the town last year — they lack the media pulling power of a U.S. president that throws a spotlight on a community reliant on tourism.
“I guess there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” said Linard Kinschi, a resident who was heading out to the 1,560 meters above sea level (5,120 ft) town’s cross-country ski trails.
Although U.S. officials are already in Switzerland preparing for Trump’s arrival, details of his trip such as whether he will even spend the night during the Jan. 23-26 event, were under wraps.
Trump, whose entourage will include Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, may drop in for just a day, give a speech and then depart.
There is something of a contradiction in all this.
The WEF is a haven for supporters of globalization espousing the very free trade pacts that Trump has blasted as unfair to the United States.
Heinz Brand, who represents Davos in the Swiss parliament, hopes Trump arrives in the mood for discussion, not a fight.
“Even people who were sworn enemies have met in Davos and left on more favorable terms,” Brand said, recalling a time when Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres shared a WEF stage.
The Swiss army has begun erecting checkpoints on roads leading into town and armed hillside bivouacs down the valley, scenes to those of previous post-Sept. 11 WEF meetings where security has been to the fore.
“This is the 48th WEF,” said Reto Branschi, CEO of Davos Klosters Tourism. “Every year, we have 20 presidents from all over the world. We are used to the visits of presidents.”
Last year, 4,300 Swiss soldiers deployed, with the airspace open only to aircraft ferrying participants to the forum. Grisons cantonal police, who coordinate WEF’s $9.3 million security measures and are liaising with U.S. officials, say they are ready.
“The closure of the airspace has worked well in recent years, and we don’t believe that any modifications will be necessary this year,” said Andre Kraske, a Grisons spokesman.
Still, there are some changes.
For decades, helicopters carrying visitors have landed in the meadow of Hans Stiffler, a lifelong Davoser who runs an inn.
This year, the landing pad has been moved across the valley, where there is more room.
Without choppers at the doorstep this year, it will be a bit quieter, and Stiffler will not have to pick up his security badge with him every time he leaves home.
But he may also not be able to add to his trove of WEF memorabilia which includes letters of appreciation from Clinton, photos of former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, and an intimate shot of Brazilian then-President Lula da Silva meeting Israel’s Peres in Stiffler’s hotel for five minutes before each was helicoptered away.
Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Richard Balmforth