NEW ORLEANS — Standing in the lobby of their downtown New Orleans hotel, Stephanie Williams and Tiffany Fuller reflect on a weekend full of memories.
“We had a perfect weekend,” Fuller said. “We kept saying we had a perfect weekend. It was great.”
These friends came to the big easy to be part of a big weekend, celebrating the Essence Festival of Culture which the pandemic sidelined the last two years.
“Those two years were super rough. We had a lot of loses, economically, when it comes to family, through sickness, through COVID,” Williams said. “It was super special and exciting coming back.”
For the city, it’s a much-needed summer economic boost, with downtown hotels and restaurants welcoming thousands of tourists.
Tourism leaders say it’s about a $200 million impact. For Fuller and Williams, it’s a joyful chance to learn and build a community, far from their home in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
“We don’t necessarily have this culture, this sense of community and unity where we live at so to come here, embrace that, and take those tools and practices back home, I’m looking forward to sharing that with other women in my community,” Williams said.
With bags packed, it’s off to the airport, where they joined other festival attendees heading back home. Just a small number of delays meant departures out of MSY were mostly on time Monday morning. They plan to back next year. So does Constance Hopkins from Dallas, who attended for the first time this year.
“My cousin talks so highly of it. I’ve never been. I never even thought about coming, but I’m glad I came,” Hopkins said. “I’m exhausted, but I’m glad I came.”
Complete with star-studded concerts, panel discussions, and a visit from the Vice President, Williams says this weekend is more than just a time to cut loose.
“Everyone has learned something. We’ve all brought something to this festival. So, it was not just about a party, it was a purpose and we’re walking away with an action to go back and to continue to mobilize,” Williams said.
The city’s contract with the festival is up in 2024 and talks are underway for an extension. The festival’s CEO recently pledged it will never leave New Orleans.