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Friday, January 18, 2013


GEORGE Issler of Switzerland and Geoff Witts of Australia learned about Cebu and Sinulog through their Cebuana wives.

Since his first visit in the 1990s, George loved to keep coming back to Cebu; Geoff on the other hand, promised he would try his best to come back for next year’s Sinulog.

“We come here for vacation, but left before Sinulog because of work commitments. This is my first time to actually experience Sinulog,” said Geoff, 54, a caregiver.

His wife, a registered nurse, Julieta Gestoso-Witts, 54, and his three children came home to Cebu for a one-month holiday to visit relatives. The family arrived last Dec. 23.

A retired engineer, George, 70, said since his first Sinulog experience in 1994, he and his wife Marina Issler now make it a tradition to come home annually to visit relatives and participate in the Sinulog revelry.

The couple bought a condominium unit in Lahug, so they will have a place to stay in Cebu for four to five months. Marina Issler, 50, is from the Bantayan Islands.

The Issler and the Witts were among the balikbayans (returnees) welcomed by the Balik Cebu Committee last Thursday night at the Ayala Terraces Cebu.

Officials estimate that there were over 400 balikbayans who joined the welcome dinner party filled with song and dance numbers.

Arrivals in 2012

The start of Cebu’s liveliest season for tourism this year coincided with a report that the Department of Tourism (DOT) fell short of its target of 4.6 million tourism arrivals for 2012.

There were 4,272,811 foreign tourists who came to the Philippines last year, 9.07 percent higher than the 3,917,454 who arrived in 2011, the DOT said.

The agency did not say why it failed to achieve its target of 4.6 million tourists, but the data showed that arrivals from China declined, from a high of 42,868 in January last year to 17,360 in December.

But compared with the 243,137 arrivals from China in 2011, the total tourist arrivals from China in 2012 “showed a moderate increase of 3.19 percent” to 250,883 visitors, the DOT said.

China was the fourth biggest source of arrivals last year, it added. Korea continued to be the country’s largest visitor market with 1,031,155 arrivals, accounting for 24.13 percent of the total last year.

Tourists from the United States composed 15.27 percent of the total inbound traffic.

Its total of 652,626 visitors was up by 4.5 percent from 2011.

Japan, which provided 412,474 visitors, was the third biggest source of tourists in the country, followed by China. Next to China was Taiwan registering 216,511 arrivals, followed by Australia with 191,150 tourists.

Hospitality a real plus

At the Balik Cebu dinner, Geoff expressed his admiration for Cebu and described the province as the Philippines’ crown jewel. “I love everything about Cebu, the culture, the hospitality and the friendly people,” he said.

“Last year, we weren’t able to come home for Sinulog; what my husband did was watch the live streaming of Sun.Star…if there’s one person in Australia who knows more about Cebu, it’s Geoff,” Julieta quipped.

For his part, what George loves during the Sinulog celebration is the chance to meet new people, aside from the colorful street dancing. The couple plans to watch the repeat performances and the awarding of the Sinulog parade winners on Monday in the Cebu City Sports Center.

Julieta and Marina are both devotees of Sto. Nino.

Though they live far away, Julieta said she always finds time to pray the novena every Friday. Among her petitions to the Child Jesus are good health and success in the careers of her family.

She recently bought a small icon of Sto. Nino and had it blessed.

Marina said she could have chosen other places in the Philippines to vacation with her husband, but she opted to spend it in Cebu because of the Sinulog celebration.

“This is the time where I can give thanks to the Child Jesus for the continued blessings He bestowed on us,” she said.

More visits

Right after Sinulog, Marina plans to bring her husband to the neighboring islands.

According to Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama, the Balik Cebu Program has become an engine of growth of Cebu’s tourism industry. The program, which is now on its 12th year, has attracted Cebuano balikbayans to come home and celebrate the city’s grand fiesta.

The Balik Cebu program is sponsored by Ayala Center Cebu and Cebu Holdings Inc. in partnership with the Cebu City Tourism Council, Department of Tourism, Sinulog Foundation Inc. and volunteers from the private sector.

The welcome dinner party had a short game, with Sinulog and cultural dance presentations. The winners of the recent Miss Cebu 2013 were also presented. The night ended with Pilita Corales serenading the balikbayans. (SDR of Sunnex)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on January 19, 2013.

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