After an earthquake and super typhoon Yolanda, foreign tourist arrivals dipped but organizers of the Sinulog festivities expect visitors, especially domestic and foreign, to flock to Cebu again for the festival.
It’s near-impossible to book a flight from Manila this week and it’s too late to reserve a hotel room.
Crowds are making their presence felt in road traffic and congested sites, especially the Basilica Minore del Sto. Nino where thousands of devotees from towns and provinces outside Cebu come to give thanks to the Holy Child for keeping them safe from harm.
“Cebu is getting smaller for the Sinulog,” said Ricky Ballesteros, executive director of the Sinulog Foundation Inc.
He said organizers expect the number of visitors to exceed a three million mark posted in last year’s celebration.
“Hotels have been fully booked since October and I heard that airlines and shipping companies are now also on full bookings,” Ballesteros said.
The spike in hotel and transport bookings in Cebu in the last quarter was spurred by the influx of local and foreign aid workers as well as journalists who joined and covered the rescue and relief efforts following the Oct. 15 earthquake that struck Central Visayas and the onslaught of supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in November.
A special group of visitors – returning Filipinos — will get extra attention starting today.
Two flights of balikbayans will be welcomed with Sinulog dancers and a rondalla or native band at the airport arrival area.
Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama and members of the Balik Cebu committee will be on hand to greet airine passengers as they leave the tube.
According to the airport’s public relations officer Mary Ann Dimabayao, they will roll out the red carpet for one flight of passengers arriving via Philippine Airlines and another by Cathay Pacific.
About 150 balikbayans from California and other parts of the world.
“We are carrying the Sinulog theme in the entire airport. As of Thursday last week, we put up colorful buntings care of Islands Souvenirs as well as a Sto. Nino altar at the domestic and international arrival areas,” she said.
As passengers of the two flights step out of the tube and make their way to the baggage claim area, a rondalla ensemble will serenade them with folk songs.
Female staff in Filipiniana attire from the Department of Tourism will welcome each one with a lei.
“The first batch will arrive at 10:15 and we will be there with the Balik Cebu Committee. Starting January 16, arriving passengers will also be treated to welcome treats by a pharmaceutical company and Smart Telecommuncations. There is also a photobooth where you can take souvenir photos. Globe Telecom is also giving Libreng Tawag (free calls) for local and international calls at the arrival area,” she said.
Bobby Joseph, chairman emeritus of the National Association of Independent Travel Agencies in the Philippines, said tourist arrivals will be high for this year’s Sinulog.
“We are seeing many people here now because it’s cold everywhere. We are only hoping that the rain won’t be too heavy and the weather will cooperate,” he said.
He was referring to near-freezing temperatures of a “polar vortex” affecting half of the United States and Canada and the winter season in Europe.
Cebu hotel executives noted that there are more locals and balikbayans than foreign visitors this year.
Marco Polo Plaza press relations manager Kyra Cabaero said their hilltop hotel is fully booked, mostly with domestic and balikbayan groups.
“Not so much from the traditional foreign markets of Japan and Korea now but we’re getting there. We expect them to come back soon,” Cabaero said.
Hotel Resort and Restaurant Association of Cebu (HRRAC) president Cenelyn Manguilimotan said all of the city hotels and pension houses in areas near the Sinulog grand parade route are 100 percent occupied.
“City hotels especially the ones near the route of the grand parade are fully booked but but sorry to say, Korean and Japanese tourists are still reluctant to come to Cebu,” Manguilimotan said.
Industry sources said many Korean travellers are still hesitant to come to Central Visayas because of the October earthquake.
While Japanese visitors were less worried about tremors, the devastation of supertyphoon Yolanda in November discouraged them.
Tourism being a major industry in Cebu has to be sustained according to Joseph. He said tourism stakeholders should keep pushing and innovating what they offer.
“This should only be the start. We have to offer more and promote more especially after what happened (calamities). We lost some traditional markets but there is still a way to get them to come back,” he said.
A Korean film producer is expected to arrive in Cebu to do a documentary of Sinulog festivities, said Rowena Montecillo, regional director of the Department of Tourism.
She said TPB and PDOT Korea plan to make a 4-minute promotional video with 15 and 30 seconder TV commercial. The videos will be made by the production group of the movie Mango Tree featuring well-known Korean comedian, Jong Chul Jung. The movie Mango Tree was filmed in Cebu with its storyline revolving around a dried mango manufacturing business in the province.
“They will be filming the festivities and show it in Korea. That will be a big help to promote Cebu there and hopefully encourage them to visit us again and to show them that Cebu is still a safe place to visit,” Montecillo said.
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