January 26th, 2009
11:19 PM GMT
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DAVOS, Switzerland - I like to arrive in Davos a few days before the World Economic Forum begins when I can experience the picturesque Swiss town without the thousands of delegates. During the Davos week, getting a hotel room here is impossible.

Many stay in apartments, or worse, in nearby towns (oh the shame of it!). This year I made a bit of Quest Personal History (QPH)! I am so early I am the only person staying in my hotel. The existing guests checked out (a group of German skiers) and the manager asked me what time I wanted him to come in to make my breakfast, since I am the only person here.

In all my years of travel for CNN Business Traveller, I have stayed in big hotels, small hotels, grand hotels, shocking hotels… but I have never been the ONLY guest staying in a hotel.

By this evening, other early birders will have arrived and I shall have to ‘share’ my hotel! In the days ahead I shall write about the issues at Davos.

Until then I shall enjoy another moment of QPH… today I will ski! I know of no real research into this, but delegates always ask each other, “have you ever actually skied during Davos?” The answer is usually long and rambling about why best intentions have been thwarted; panels, meetings, lunches “got in the way."

This year I will get up the mountain, then when the question is asked I can be very smug and say “of course I have skied, oh, and I even had the hotel to myself!”

Hotels and skiing… this is indeed going to be an historic Davos meeting!

Tune in to CNN International each evening at 1900 GMT to catch Richard’s new show, Quest Means Business.

For more coverage of this year's World Economic Forum, go to our special Davos page.



January 26th, 2009
04:25 PM GMT
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DAVOS, Switzerland – It's the contrasts that hit you when you come to Davos. All those mountains and snow, all that Swiss cleanliness - it all feels a long way from the gloom and mud of winter in the English countryside, which is where I was only 36 hours ago.But there are some other big contrasts, too. Even before the World Economic Forum begins, Davos 2009 feels a lot more than 12 months away from Davos 2008. Then, we thought we'd get away with a bit of a slowdown, and emerging economies like China would take over as the engines of global growth and save us from recession. Now, that recession is a reality, and today my inbox is clogged with internal CNN e-mails confirming tens of thousands of job losses: Home Depot, Deere, Sprint Nextel, Caterpillar and on and on and on.

A worker clears away snow ahead of the Davos 2009 forum.
A worker clears away snow ahead of the Davos 2009 forum.

So this year's Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum will be a rather more austere affair than its predecessors – even more sober than last year's. Old hands who've been here many times before agree that growth has given way to decline much faster than they ever expected. That has frankly awed participants into a more businesslike attitude towards their annual jolly to Switzerland.

Not that it looks that way if you go down to the kitchens of, say, the Arabella Sheraton in Davos. Amid the bustle of preparing for six days of non-stop catering, an assistant chef shows me storerooms full of gourmet supplies. My eye alights on one carton full of something pink and white and shrunk-wrapped: lobster, I ask? Nothing so mean, laughs my guide. Kamchatka crab legs, apparently, a Russian delicacy.

Oh yes, there will be quite some parties here, as every year. But some of the biggest names are canceling or cutting back. Goldman Sachs is reported to have nixed its bash for this year, and a lot of others are wary of being seen to live it up in the Swiss mountains while the world economy crumbles.

Nevertheless, the numbers of participants and hangers-on (like me) will be broadly similar to the turnout last year. For corporate leaders, there is a genuine reason for abandoning their desks and sneaking off to the mountains: we are in uncharted economic waters, and anyone who looks like they might know how to sail us back to growth will be seized on and pumped for ideas.

In Davos, dinners, drinks and deals usually win out over debates, deliberations and discussions. But in 2009 the boot will be on the other foot. With uncertainty clouding the global outlook, the networking will be about what was always originally intended: trading ideas. Trimmed of its excesses, and focused sharply on the economy, this time the World Economic Forum will be about listening.

For more coverage of this year’s World Economic Forum, go to our special Davos  page.



January 26th, 2009
11:42 AM GMT
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DAVOS, Switzerland - I like to arrive in Davos a few days before the World Economic Forum begins when I can experience the picturesque Swiss town without the thousands of delegates. During the Davos week, getting a hotel room here is impossible.

Many stay in apartments, or worse, in nearby towns (oh the shame of it!). This year I made a bit of Quest Personal History (QPH)! I am so early I am the only person staying in my hotel. The existing guests checked out (a group of German skiers) and the manager asked me what time I wanted him to come in to make my breakfast, since I am the only person here.

In all my years of travel for CNN Business Traveller, I have stayed in big hotels, small hotels, grand hotels, shocking hotels… but I have never been the ONLY guest staying in a hotel.

By this evening, other early birders will have arrived and I shall have to ‘share’ my hotel! In the days ahead I shall write about the issues at Davos.

Until then I shall enjoy another moment of QPH… today I will ski! I know of no real research into this, but delegates always ask each other, “have you ever actually skied during Davos?” The answer is usually long and rambling about why best intentions have been thwarted; panels, meetings, lunches “got in the way."

This year I will get up the mountain, then when the question is asked I can be very smug and say “of course I have skied, oh, and I even had the hotel to myself!”

Hotels and skiing… this is indeed going to be an historic Davos meeting!

Tune in to CNN International each evening at 1900 GMT to catch Richard’s new show, Quest Means Business.

For more coverage of this year's World Economic Forum, go to our special Davos page.



January 26th, 2009
07:34 AM GMT
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TOKYO, Japan — Before you get to the front door of Canon's headquarters in Tokyo, you can hear it – a virtual stampede of employees pouring out of the building right at 5:30pm. You might think it's not so unusual. The day is over and workers should go home, right? But this is Japan, where the 12 hour workday is the norm. Sure, you can go home at 5:30pm, but you better pack your guilt with your briefcase. That is, except at Canon, twice a week.

Japan’s health ministry reports the country’s birthrate is well below that needed to maintain the population.
Japan’s health ministry reports the country’s birthrate is well below that needed to maintain the population.

At Canon, the company shuts off the lights and turns off the heat to force employees out by 5:30pm. There are two reasons – to cut overtime, but also an unusual one: to encourage employees to have more babies. Watch Kyung Lah's report on Canon's initiative

The thinking goes, while there's less work to do in a historic recession like this one, corporations might as well get to fixing another major social problem in Japan: the low birthrate. Keidanren, Japan's largest business group with 1300 major international corporations as members, issued a plea to its members to let workers go home early to spend time with their families and help Japan with its pressing social problem.

Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare reports the country's birthrate is 1.34, well below the 2.0 needed to maintain the population. Part of the problem is the expected 12 hour workday. Toss in the high cost of living and the social rigidity towards women and parenting, and you have a major problem on your hands. Compounding the problem, Japan is aging at the highest rate of any country in the world. The world's second largest economy, say many analysts, faces its greatest threat from its own social problems, not an outside force. Without some sort of active change in the current social and work structures, warn sociologists, Japan's population will buckle under its population proportions.

The 5:30 p.m. lights out program is one simple step towards helping solve that problem, with the added benefit of slashing overtime twice a week across the board. Employee Miwa Iwasaki isn't complaining, saying, "It's great that we can go home early and not feel ashamed." If you can feel good at work a couple of times a week, that's a rare silver lining in the current global economic storm.

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