By Zsarlene B. Chua, Reporter

IN 1998, the Queen City of the South saw the opening of a new hotel, a hotel that was created from the outset to not just add 562 rooms to Cebu City’s capacity but to become the venue of choice for everything from large conferences to major concerts.

Now celebrating its 20th year, Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino remains one of Cebu City’s most recognizable structures, with its teal roof and a look reminiscent of The Grand Budapest Hotel, the 2014 Wes Anderson film. The hotel in the film was inspired by a castle in Karlove Vary, Czech Republic.

Beyond its architecture, Waterfront Cebu is perhaps best known for its Pacific Grand Ballroom which can accommodate up to 7,000 people, making it the city’s biggest MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions and events) venue.

And it’s the conferences which makes up the largest segment of the market for the hotel, by far, according to general manager Anders Hallden.

“I must say, the guys who built [the hotel] must have had it on the drawing board already in 1993. They had a great vision,” he told the Manila-based media during a visit to Cebu on Feb. 24.

Twenty years on, he said that Cebu is “a good place to be in right now” because of the new Mactan Cebu International Airport opening its second terminal in July which will spell more direct flights from neighboring countries to the city.

Being the good place to be also signals the entrance of several other competitors in the city, with Bai hotel being the most recent (it held its soft opening in 2017 and will have 668 rooms), but Mr. Hallden said there is room for everyone and is thus not threatened, but admitted that it does keep them on their toes.

Because of that, Mr. Hallden said that the hotel is planning on renovating its banquet facilities this year. After that, he said, they will turn their attention to renovating the rooms.

“But I’m not getting any more rooms — with 562 rooms and it’s sufficient for me, at this moment. We’re running very high [occupancy] there are times when I’m running out of rooms,” he explained before adding that average occupancy is 87%.

Filipinos may still count for more than half of Waterfront Cebu’s current market but the Koreans are a close second, followed by Japan and China.

The hotel is getting its fair share of millennial travellers to — they make up to 20% of the hotel’s guest which Mr. Hallden said is not very high but he is confident that the number will soon rise.

“It’s a market that will come to me because the hotel is a destination,” he said.

Mr. Hallden said that one of the things the hotel is most proud of is the existence of seven food and beverage outlets, each of them serving different cuisines, from Japanese (Mizu) to Chinese (Tin Gow) to Italian (La Gondola).

He then explained that he was the hotel’s executive chef from 2006 to 2007 before returning 10 years later to become the hotel’s general manager.

Each of the hotel’s restaurants has its own following, so the hotel decided to pit each restaurant’s chef against one another with their version of Iron Chef, a popular Japanese cooking show which first aired in 2003. The hotel’s Iron Chef is scheduled as part of their Fourth of July celebrations.

“There is so much going on and the future looks very interesting…The future looks very good for Cebu City and we are working to be there with the development,” he was quoted as saying in a press release.