NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) — A signature event back in the Big Easy. ESSENCE Festival is set to kick off on Thursday raking in hundreds of thousands of visitors.

“There is pent-up demand for this,” said Kevin Ferguson, the Vice President of External Affairs for New Orleans and Company. “They had a massive audience for their virtual one and they expect that to really translate this year. People have two years of outfits they’ve been saving up.”

Typically the festival brings in over $300 million to New Orleans, but this year officials are expecting even more.

“I believe we are going to reach and tip it over just by a little margin,” said Lisa Alexis, the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Economy.

“Folks are out spending money at restaurants, retail, bars, shopping, everything you can think of – they’re using uber rides, they’re getting around town in cabs,” said Ferguson.

Hotels are filling up quickly.

“They are at really healthy levels in the 80% mark,” Ferguson.

“With the tourism dollars that we receive from hotel taxes, we receive a portion of those dollars that are utilized to reinvest right back into our cultural economy,” said Alexis.

This year the festival will be at more than just the Superdome.

“There are going to be activations throughout the City of New Orleans there’s going to be on Bayou Road, Esplanade – activations within the community,” Alexis said.

There will also be a heightened focus on local vendors.

“There’s going to be a local marketplace that’s going to take place for just our local vendors,” said Alexis.

One of the themes this year is Celebrating Black Joy.

“For a city like ours that has so many residents of color, it’s really beautiful to be able to share that here, connect our culture,” said Ferguson.

Mayor Cantrell will be holding a press conference Wednesday at noon addressing public safety ahead of ESSENCE Festival.