YOUNG entrepreneur Chestine Chua is ready for the festive vibe this weekend. 

Together with her five friends, Chua, who is from Surigao City, is traveling to Cebu to celebrate Sinulog, one of the grandest festivals in the country.

The annual religious and cultural festival is capped by a grand street parade traditionally held on the third Sunday of January.

Chua intends to stay in Cebu for a week so she could pay homage to Sr. Sto Niño and, at the same time attend street parties and reunite with her college buddies and relatives.

“I don’t fly to Cebu every year for the Sinulog. It depends. But when I get the chance, I travel with friends. Apart from the religious aspect, Sinulog is also a perfect time to reunite with friends and family members I haven’t seen in quite a while,” said Chua, who will be staying with her relatives.

She’s allocating a budget of P5,000 to P10,000 for her entire stay in Cebu, which she will spend on food and drinks.

Held in January, the Sinulog has been a crowd drawer over the years and is considered an extension of the Christmas merriment as reflected in the number of tourist arrivals, street parties mounted and the abundance of cash circulating in the local economy.

According to the Department of Tourism (DOT) 7, Sinulog is one of the major stirrers of Cebu’s tourism economic activity. 

Although the agency has no specific data on who are arriving in January specifically for the Sinulog, January is said to be one of the peak months for the province with arrivals steadily increasing in the past five years.

“Sinulog as a major festival in Cebu has contributed much in marketing Cebu as a destination. It is a come-on to our new and repeated guests,” DOT 7 Director Catalino Chan III said.

Like any other festival, Sinulog attracts visitors who spend money for accommodation, sightseeing, tours, food, the culture and experience.

“The festival is an avenue for free marketing and advertising for businesses. The benefits of the festival ripple throughout Cebu, affecting tourism and non-tourism related businesses alike,” Chan said.

Specifically, the Sinulog is a major booster for the hospitality sector. According to Julie Najar, president of the Hotel, Resort and Restaurant Association of Cebu (Hrrac), the occupancy rate of city hotels has increased four to six percent since 2012, but in the last five years, the number of rooms available in the city also increased 37 percent.

Najar, who manages the five-star Marco Polo Plaza Cebu, said their occupancy is now at 90 percent. They expect to be fully booked this weekend. 

Homegrown Cebu Grand Hotel and Cebu Parklane International Hotel likewise consider January the peak month with occupancy for Sinulog weekend at 100 percent. 

Cebu Grand Hotel general manager Carlo Suarez said they earn more in January with the Sinulog compared to in other months of the year. Hotels get busy again approaching the “ber months,” as meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions bookings increase.

“Every year, Sinulog is improving. More people come here because of the different activities,” Suarez said.

Five years back, Sinulog was largely dominated by local visitors. But thanks to Cebu’s improved connectivity abroad, it now welcomes foreign guests from all over the world.

“With the influx of visitors, our local economy booms. The Sinulog Festival opens the doors for revenues to come in,” said Edilberto Mendoza Jr., president of the Cebu Association of Tour Operators.

Sinulog tour packages vary with the type of accommodation the visitors want. 

For a five-star accommodation on a three-day-two-night package, Mendoza said visitors would usually spend P50,000 per person on average, including for tours, while those on a tight budget can squeeze the same tour package into a P15,000 to P20,000 budget.

Top tours that sell during the Sinulog Festival season are the Cebu City Day Tour, Twin City Tour, Cebu Highlands Tour, Island Hopping, Southern Heritage Tour, Whale Shark Watching, Northern Heritage Tour, Educational Tour, Cebu Bohol Tour and Arts and Crafts.

Sinulog is also one of the anticipated seasons when taxi drivers and operators can bring home bigger income for their families.

“Taxi drivers are happy during December and January because these are the months when they earn more,” said Richard Cabucos, president of the Metro Cebu Taxi Operators Association. “It is a back-to-back opportunity for them to earn and save before the lean months of June and August arrive. Demand for taxis then comes back approaching the ‘ber’ months.”

Thanks to the Sinulog, the retail sector in Cebu also enjoys a prolonged retail spree unlike in other areas when sales start to dive past the Christmas rush. 

“The trend in other places during January is a downtrend because that’s after the December season, but Cebu is different,” said SM City Cebu assistant mall manger Maria Teresa Mempin. 

There remain vibrant shopping activities post-Christmas, with Sinulog around that draws in tourists and balikbayans alike, she said. 

For Diego Busa of Busa Printers, businesses go full blast in their marketing campaigns and activities for Cebu at this time of the year. This means the local printing industry benefits too. 

Busa, son of Mandaue Chamber of Commerce and Industry immediate past president Donato Busa, quoting the chamber, said there are 2.5 million people in Cebu, and this goes up to 4.5 million during Christmas and the Sinulog. 

“Sinulog is a very good time for business exposure,” he said. 

Some of the top printing materials sought during the Sinulog are tarpaulins, posters, flyers and t-shirts.

For Islands Group president and chief executive officer Jonathan Jay Aldeguer, t-shirts remain the most sold item during the Sinulog. His shirt company, Islands Souvenirs, sees a good number of tourists and locals alike scouting for t-shirts with Sinulog prints. 

The Islands Group started preparing for this year’s Sinulog a year ago.

“Planning starts right after the Sinulog when there is a debriefing with the team. Notes are taken and critical points to prepare for the following year. Product and marketing-related designs start as early as August,” Aldeguer said.

He said the volume of shirts and Sinulog items sold by Islands Souvenirs has increased yearly. Along Osmeña Boulevard is a row of stalls selling Sinulog T-shirts too.

Cebu’s food establishments also welcome good business at this time of the year. 

Speaking for the Cafe Laguna Group, corporate chef Raki Urbina said the number of diners increases 10 to 15 percent during the Sinulog from the busy December rush. 

Function bookings also increase as more companies hold their company events in Cebu at this time of the year.

Urbina, who is also vice president of the Philippine Retailers Association Cebu and Hrrac, said that while Sinulog 2017 will have a smaller crowd than last year due to some changes, for instance the absence of the Miss Cebu pageant, food establishments will continue to enjoy a good volume of diners. 

“There has been a stable increase in the past year with Sinulog. We are confident that people will go out and eat,” Urbina said.

Larsian, for instance, is one of the most flocked to areas in uptown Cebu City where Sinulog festival goers take their meals, being conveniently located along the Sinulog route. 

To compete with the street food stalls and restaurants, hotels come up with exciting activities and dining options.

Cebu Grand Hotel is offering a Sinulog lunch buffet promo with Rico’s lechon priced at P499 this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Parklane Hotel, on the other hand, has mounted art exhibits and henna tattoo and face painting sessions, and sells Sinulog shirts and accessories. The hotel also offers gastronomic treats—Cebu buffet for lunch and dinner priced at P750, a balikbayan dinner with cultural dances and music at P450 and Cebuano barbecue buffet with unlimited sutukil for P450.

Marco Polo also holds an annual Sugbusog, its culinary journey that features local favorites like humba, balbacua, kinilaw and more. During the Sinulog Grand Parade on Sunday, the hotel also offers guests special Sinulog amenities for P1,500 which covers packed lunch, face decor, a whistle, fan, water and shuttle service to the hotel’s Sinulog bleachers.

“Sinulog is always a great way to start the year,” said Manna Alcaraz, Marco Polo Plaza Cebu corporate communications manager.

Real estate developers and brokers also take advantage of the Sinulog festival to sell condominium and housing units, timing their major property events during this period when the visits of overseas Filipino workers also present a major opportunity to close deals. 

Filinvest Land Inc. project development officer Archie Igot said the developer takes the Sinulog as an opportunity to sell and market its projects. 

Generally, Sinulog spells blessings not only for the religious, but for local entrepreneurs as well.