NEW ORLEANS - It's a 'party with a purpose.' And this weekend, Essence Festival is in full swing.
Hundreds of thousands of visitors are in town for the 19th annual festival, giving the New Orleans economy a big boost.
By noon on Saturday, the streets of downtown were packed with both visitors and vendors.
'Business has been great and you know what, even for customers that purchase and those that don't, we're able to pass a business card out,' said Desiree Sherman, co-owner of Roots 4 the Soul clothing.
The Essence Music Festival is about much more than music. It draws people from all over the country for concerts at night in the Superdome and empowerment seminars during the day at the Convention Center.
And in between, visitors are eating in local restaurants, patronizing local bars, and shopping for souvenirs.
'I'm shopping for people that didn't get a chance to come, so I do shopping when I'm down here and take it back home,' said Rhonda Hare, of Meridian, MS, who has come to Essence Festival for the last 10 years.
Tourism say more than 400,000 people come to New Orleans for Essence Festival, with an estimated $100 million economic impact.
'This has become sort of our kingpin, milestone event for the summer months and other festivals see that a festival like Essence works. So they have been putting their festivals in the summer months,' said Mark Romig, president and CEO of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation.
Historically, July has been a slow month for New Orleans tourism. But for the last 19 years, Essence Festival keeps the momentum going, with hotels this weekend at 97 percent occupancy.
'It's the place to be, this is where all the people come together, just like a big house party,' said Hare.
Thousands of people have become regulars at Essence Fest, bringing more friends each year.
Tourism officials hope the atmosphere of New Orleans will give people a reason to return.
'You meet so many different people and everybody's friendly and wants you to come back, and that's worth coming again,' said Maurice Scott, of Fayetteville, NC.
Organizers are hoping for a rebound because attendance was down slightly last year.
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