By Brontë H. Lacsamana and Patricia B. MirasolReporters

Many Filipinos are expected to take advantage of the Holy Week break to unwind, but their vacation plans will depend on their budget, according to industry executives. 

“Things are more expensive, but they would just have to spend according to what they’re capable of paying,” said George T. Barcelon, president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

While retail sales are not expected to increase compared to March, the leisure and travel industries, including establishments along the highways of the capital, are seen to benefit greatly from the long weekend, he told BusinessWorld in a recent interview.

Malacañang has announced the suspension of work in government offices starting noon on Holy Wednesday, April 5, to give workers ample time to go home to their loved ones and prepare for the observance of the Holy Week. 

The Metro Pacific Tollways Corp. expects a 10% to 15% rise in traffic volume on its high-speed roads, from an average of 350,000 daily travelers on North Luzon Expressway and Subic–Clark–Tarlac Expressway, 160,000 on Manila-Cavite Expressway (CAVITEX), 16,000 on CAVITEX C5 Link, and 34,000 on Cavite-Laguna Expressway.

Mr. Barcelon said that many Filipinos are also expected to travel to nearby Asian countries such as Hong Kong and Singapore, benefiting the aviation industry. 

Happy Hotels Chief Executive Officer Emmanuel Jason Lao said that hotels were getting ready for the nationwide holiday break, as the majority of Filipinos are Catholics, and Holy Week greatly affects travel and tourism.

“It’s a moment of rest for us and at the same time a moment of bonding for families, of strengthening the family by going on vacation, on trips,” he told BusinessWorld.

He noted that the Moriones Festival in Marinduque is just one example of the different ways Filipinos celebrate Holy Week, highlighting how important the occasion is to them.

Meanwhile, NUSTAR Resort and Casino, a Robinson’s Land development in Cebu, acknowledges the significance of Easter Sunday by holding its first-ever resort-wide Easter egg hunt this year.

“We’re looking at around 600 kid participants, and then, each year as we learn more, we’ll continue to grow that and make this a destination for Easter,” said Paolo L. Campillo, NUSTAR Resort and Casino’s general manager.

According to him, the majority of NUSTAR’s Fili Hotel guests are Filipinos, followed by Koreans, Chinese, and Japanese. The company aspires to make its Easter egg hunt the biggest one in Cebu. 

For smaller companies like tour operators and travel agencies, the sudden competitiveness has been difficult after a long period of uncertainties for the tourism industry during the pandemic.

Marjorie Jayne O. Zamudio, an inbound sales manager at Bridgeway Travel & Tours, said the surge in inbound and domestic traffic during the Holy Week and summer seasons is a challenge for the sector.

“Price wars, or the differences of prices among competitors, are hard because how do we make sure our rates are competitive?” she said.

These days, strong and visually appealing social media marketing is crucial, but not all small travel and tour businesses are familiar with it, as they find it challenging to distinguish themselves from one another, Ms. Zamudio added.

Another major issue that a consumer-driven Holy Week brings is the unsustainable holiday economics that it normalizes in the Philippines, according to Leonardo A. Lanzona, an economics professor at the Ateneo De Manila University.

“Here you have almost one whole week of people leaving their work, which cannot be recovered anymore. Firms will have to continue paying their workers, so that’s going to be a significant loss,” Mr. Lanzona said.

While the almost week-long holiday is beneficial for tourism, it is not advantageous for the overall Philippine economy, which is not very strong to begin with, he noted, adding that only those who have spending power will benefit.

In his Palm Sunday message, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. called on Filipinos to “know Jesus Christ more” this Holy Week to become better agents of change as Christians.

For Mr. Lanzona, the country is better off going back to that true essence of Holy Week. “How do we make society more attuned towards the common good…, towards making sure that everyone benefits? Maybe that will make Holy Week more productive for everyone,” he said.