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If you are looking for a hotel room this weekend in New Orleans, you’ll probably have to look to another city.

All 5,000 rooms blocked for the Essence Festival have been sold out, and the 10,000 people in town for the National Education Association’s annual meeting have taken up most other accommodations, according to convention bureau representatives.

That’s good news for a city that five years ago was almost completely washed away by the winds, rains and flooding of Hurricane Katrina.

“We’re projecting that activities this week will have an economic impact of around $200 million,” said Toni Rice, president of the New Orleans Multicultural Tourism Network.

“When events like this come to town, everyone sees an increase in sales and work, from the taxi cab drivers to the retail stores, restaurants and hotels,” Rice told

The Essence Music Festival, now in its 14th  year, kicks off today with a full line-up of  empowerment seminars and some of the top entertainers in the world. Artists from Janet Jackson to Mary J. Blige and from Chris Rock to Chris Brown will take the stage during three days that come to an end on Sunday, July 4.

The NEA Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly began on June 26 with some pre-conference events and will end on July 6.

The challenge, Rice said, was ensuring there was enough space available to handle all of the events for the music festival and the NEA.

“They are two different events with different needs, but we were able to work it out,” she said.

During the day, the NEA will use part of the convention center, and the Essence Festival will use the other part, Rice said. At night, the major concerts will be in the SuperDome, she said.

“There will be some overlap with guests for the two events,” Rice said. “There will be some NEA members who attend the Essence Festival this weekend.”

NEA and the Essence Fest actually have formed partnerships, said Michelle Hudgins, a spokeswoman for NEA.

NEA participated Thursday in a community fair sponsored by Essence, Hudgins said. And on Saturday, NEA leaders will participate in an education forum at the Essence Music Festival.

Essence also allowed NEA members to purchase festival tickets at a discount, Hudgins said.

“Oh yes, we’ll have people taking care of NEA business during the day, but going over to the festival for music at night,” Hudgins told

A total of 400,000 people are expected to attend the Essence Music Festival, which has claimed the title as the largest event of its kind in the country.

“We’ll have some who stay in hotels, but we have others who are drive-in guests,” Rice said.

Several people planning to attend have said they are concerned about the impact of the Gulf Oil Spill on the music festival.

“New Orleans is more than 100 miles from the coast, said Rice, who works to attract conventions and visitors to the Crescent City. 

“We are concerned about the impact it is having on the people who live and work on the coast, but New Orleans still is open for business,” she said.

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