I’ll be blunt: This year’s Davos was better because US President Donald Trump (and others) stayed away.
2018 was a historic low for Davos. Trump was here, and some participants treated him the same way teenagers would a pop star. The president was the undisputed center of attention, and his presence caused the conference to grind to a halt. As one minister told me, the oxygen can be "sucked out" of Davos when the event is overshadowed by a prominent leader.
The news that Trump would not be coming this year was greeted with regret by the World Economic Forum (their star guest would not be here), and relief by those hoping to actually get something done. When British Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Emmanuel Macron and other leaders canceled their visits, many commentators couldn't help but proclaim the conference irrelevant.
Now I’ll let you in on a secret: Davos has been much better because they stayed away (IMHO). Top leaders still made important speeches (China's vice president, Wang Qishan, reassured the world about the Chinese economy and bashed the United States in the process). The panel discussions were interesting and lively.
Throughout the Congress Center I saw people engaged in discussions on the top challenges we face, including climate change. Attendees also grappled with the fourth industrial revolution, which will see the world reshaped by artificial intelligence, robotics and other technological breakthroughs.
For the past five years, Davos has pushed the fourth industrial revolution theme down our throats, to little gain. Now, the revolution is well underway and the effects are being felt in developed and emerging markets. Government ministers, finance bosses, NGOs, media – no one can ignore the change now underway, and here at Davos there was real engagement.
As I head down the mountain, I will reflect – Yes, it is good to see political leaders giving speeches and performing on panels. But it's even better to see decision makers and power brokers actually getting to grips with issues of vital importance.
Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the World Economic Forum and there's little doubt that founder Klaus Schwab will pull every string possible to get the biggest names here. I hope that in quiet reflection, organizers realize that this year was so good precisely because the circus stayed at home.