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IADB: Temperature down, attendance up

The organizers of last month’s Inter-American Development Bank annual meeting in Calgary had been hoping to show off the picturesque setting of this oil-rich city, nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. But with visibility reduced by freezing fog and snow flurries to roughly one block for most of the conference, delegates had to take the Albertans at their word. With local newspapers describing the prolonged winter as one of the worst in recent memory, more than one delegate was seen with labels still attached to heavy overcoats, scarves and woollen hats. Still, there was an upside for the organizers. “Last year we held the conference in Cancún and it was a nightmare getting the delegates and even some of the speakers off the sun-loungers,” said an official who was visibly enjoying the ease of corralling participants in between conference halls, lunches and meetings. Many delegates said they didn’t leave the conference complex – linked to official hotels – for the entire meeting. “Attendance at the event’s functions is definitely up on last year,” said the official with a smile.

However, it was not all plain sailing, with cultural differences surviving the freeze. At one of the headline evening functions the Canadian hosts were in place 15 minutes before kick-off, only to wait for half an hour before the first Latin American guest showed up. “We forgot about Latin Time,” says one.

The only thing to rival the weather as small talk was the rigours of the journey to Canada. (This notwithstanding the Canadian general election campaign unexpectedly beginning mid-event, which led to an unusually large number of questions for Canadian finance minister Jim Flaherty about domestic politics at the formal IDB press conference, which must have made Colombian finance minister Juan Carlos Echeverry feel a little superfluous.) The inbound journey had prompted many tales of travel chaos and woe. As the conference end neared, thoughts turned to the long journey home. A delegation of São Paulo-based bankers had been booked with American Airlines via Dallas. “We have a nine-hour wait in Dallas,” said one forlornly. “We’ve hired a car, but what are we going to do in Dallas for nine hours? Has anyone got any ideas?” Answers on a postcard will arrive far too late.