The annual Walmart shareholders week, which included a business meeting and employee celebration with a full week of activities for 5,000 employees from around the globe, won’t happen this year.
Walmart said Friday (April 3) it will hold the annual shareholder’s business meeting virtually and no physical meetings will take place. The virtual meetings will be held June 3 and details for watching online can found on the retailer’s website.
The decision to postpone the week of activities comes as the U.S continues to face impacts of COVID-19 and the orders of social distancing and lockdowns in place across several cities and states.
Walmart said the employee celebration that was set for June 5, won’t take place because the logistics and lead time required to get 5,000 employees to Northwest Arkansas has created too much uncertainty to ensure everyone’s safety given the state of COVID-19 pandemic.
The annual event brings thousands of visitors to the region, many who book hotel rooms and the University of Arkansas that houses the majority of Walmart employees brought in for the week of events. In a typical year, the University of Arkansas would reap over $1 million in funds for housing, food service, security and UA police, parking and facility use. There is also the transportation service that shuttles employees and media from Fayetteville to Bentonville throughout the week.
The majority of the 5,000 or so employees also fly into the region and that will be lost revenue and fewer enplanements for Northwest Arkansas National Airport. Hotels such as the Embassy Suites in Rogers or Four Points Sheraton in Bentonville have typically housed the media attending from around the world for the week and provided meeting space for executive question and answer sessions during the week. Last year the Embassy Suites held the formal business meeting on Wednesday, the first time Walmart has separated it from the annual Friday extravaganza held at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Mervin Jebaraj, executive director for the Center for Economic Research at the University of Arkansas, said the center has not conducted an economic analysis of the annual event’s impact on the region. He said with respect to COVID-19, the region’s restaurant industry is poised to lose $150 million in sales through mid-June and the hotel industry could see economic losses of around $36 million. He said this is lost revenue as with most of the COVID-19 related closures and there will be no opportunity to make it up in 2020.
“We know the hotel industry will be taking a hit from the meeting cancelation in June because the sector usually sees a bump each year from Walmart meeting related traffic,” he said.
Jebaraj said given the lead time and logistics Walmart requires to pull off the massive event and the uncertainty that still exists it’s understandable why the company decided to make the decision to have virtual meetings.