Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting, which draws nearly 40,000 people to Omaha each year in a pilgrimage to see investor Warren Buffett, will be streamed over the Internet this year for the first time, the company’s chief financial officer told The World-Herald.
That could have implications for the city’s tourism industry: People from around the globe descend on Omaha each year, filling hotels and restaurants. They also shop at Berkshire-owned stores, which offer discounts to shareholders during the annual meeting weekend.
Will it keep people away from fair Omaha, which once a year is dubbed Woodstock for Capitalists?
“Maybe a few people on the margin will watch at home, but I don’t see a huge effect,” said Ted Bridges, boss man at Omaha’s Bridges Investment Management, an adviser with $1.8 billion under supervision that includes Berkshire Hathaway Class A and Class B. shares.
Bridges said the annual meeting is considered a “rite of passage” among many money managers, while more casual investors come for the shopping days at the Berkshire-owned Nebraska Furniture Mart and other side events.
“It will still be cool to come to the annual meeting,” he said.
The annual meeting this year is on April 30 at the CenturyLink Center. It will be streamed over the Web, said Marc Hamburg, chief financial officer at Berkshire Hathaway.
Some hotel managers contacted late Friday said it’s too early to tell what kind of impact, if any, the webcast could have on occupancy levels during the typically sold-out Berkshire weekend.
And for at least this year’s event, many rooms might already be taken.
“We’ve been booked probably since last year’s event,” said Ashlee Emerson, lead gallery host at the Hyatt Place in the Old Market.
Others in the hotel industry said they hadn’t gotten enough time to confer with colleagues.
Rashad Walker, shift supervisor at the downtown Omaha Doubletree Hotel, said late Friday he was unsure how the webcast could affect attendance at this year’s meeting.
“I don’t see there being a huge impact on us, but it’s hard to tell” this early, he said.
Kristi Andersen, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority, or MECA, said she didn’t know what Berkshire was planning for the event. MECA runs the CenturyLink Center. Andersen said the center does have the equipment necessary to live stream events.
There are official and unofficial events around the city before and after the meeting.
One is a trip to Gorat’s, a regular hangout for Buffett, who is chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, which also owns this newspaper.
The steak purveyor that sports a sign touting “finest steaks in the world” isn’t worried.
“It will have no effect — none — I assure you,” said Gene Dunn, owner of Gorat’s, one of the Omaha steakhouses that for some of the weekend of the annual meeting is reserved exclusively for Berkshire shareholders.
“They are too die-hard,” he said. “The Berkshire stockholders are unbelievably fanatical about making sure they come to this.”
Dunn said he serves 3,000 people during the three days of the annual meeting and related happenings.
And one of Omaha’s chief salesmen says watching on the Web just isn’t the same as being right in the thick of it.
“Being with other shareholders and hearing from Warren Buffett up close and personal is where much of the excitement comes from!” said David Brown, head of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce.
“The rest comes from the people, the food, and the attractions that make Omaha such a perfect spot for this annual pilgrimage,” he said.
Berkshire Hathaway owns The World-Herald.
World-Herald Staff Writers Cole Epley and Paige Yowell contributed to this report.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1185, firstname.lastname@example.org, @bradleydaviswsj
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