Low occupancy in Cebu hotels despite Sinulog festivities

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Hotels and resorts in Cebu face dwindling occupancy rates even during Sinulog weekend, with industry leaders pinning the blame to competition with online bookings via Airbnb.

Cebu (CNN Philippines, January 17) — Tourism numbers are up for Cebu for this year's Sinulog festival, but hotels and resorts have been complaining of low occupancy ahead of this weekend's events.

Days before the Sinulog grand parade on Sunday, Hotel, Resort & Restaurant Association of Cebu President Carlo Anton Suarez said their members are just at 60 percent occupancy.

Five years ago, hotels and resorts in Cebu were already at full occupancy even weeks before the biggest Sinulog event, said Suarez, general manager of Cebu Grand Hotel.

"We expect full occupancy only during Saturday before the Sinulog. In fact, on the night after Sinulog, we expect to have low occupancy again," Suarez said.

Both Suarez and his colleague HRACC Vice President Alfred Reyes attributed the downtrend in hotel bookings to the Airbnb phenomenon, referring to the online marketplace for temporary lodging. Through an app, tourists can browse alternative housing options during their vacation, often at cheaper rates.

"For the past years, hotels and resorts have been affected by Airbnb and we are honest with that. Airbnb is really giving a big hit to hotels right now," said Reyes, general manager of Bai Hotel in Mandaue City.

Reyes said Airbnb is cheaper and unregulated, and offers units in condominium towers in Cebu. He appealed to the Department of Tourism to look into regulating Airbnb facilities.

Devotee City

Those without bookings in hotels, resorts and Airbnb can instead head to Cebu's "Devotee City," which opened on Thursday.

Makeshift rooms inside container vans are provided for the use of out-of-town devotees who flock to Cebu City for the yearly fiesta. It can also be availed by vendors who come from as far as Bogo City in the north and Toledo City from the west for a place to rest.

The Devotee City provides free makeshift rooms out of container vans. (Dale Israel)

Stays in Devotee City are free upon presenting bus or boat tickets for registration. The rooms will be open until the Sinulog weekend.

President Rodrigo Duterte is also expected to grace the event at the Cebu City Sports Center. With heightened security, phone signals in the cities of Cebu, Mandaue, and Lapu-Lapu may be shut down for several hours on Saturday and Sunday.

Major events for the Sinulog festival will start by Saturday dawn with a fluvial procession of the Santo Niño pilgrim image, involving some 170 boats plying the Mactan Channel. The fluvial procession would demonstrate the arrival of the Holy Child Jesus image to Cebu in 1521. In the afternoon, a procession would be held around the streets of Cebu City, which is expected to draw thousands of devotees. Around 500,000 people joined the procession in 2019.

The annual Sinulog Festival focuses on the Santo Niño. (FILE PHOTO)

The Sinulog Grand Parade will begin at 8 a.m. on Sunday, which would mean a closure of major roads around Cebu City. This year, performers from different cities and provinces are expected to join the parade. including the Maskara Festival dancers of Bacolod City; dancers from Abuyog, Leyte; and others from cities in Mindanao.

Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella said it is also the first time for street children to have a dancing contingent, dubbed as Sinulog sa Palaboy. A Korean dancing delegation is also expected to join the street parade, he added.