Marga Montemayor-Nograles and TPB – Manila Bulletin

Nurturing and enhancing a brand is nothing new for Marga Montemayor-Nograles. It’s not just written in his blood, but it’s part of his DNA. Growing up, she watched her mother promote their hotel and restaurant in Davao and worked with a number of indigenous tribes in Mindanao.

Marga also started her own fashion brand, Kaayo, in 2017. A brand that has strong elements of sustainability even before the word became a buzzword here. He championed artisanal communities of hand weavers and revived what was then a dying textile sub-industry. Kaayo’s success over five fruitful years is a testament to Marga’s determination, ingenuity, and business and marketing acumen.

As the new Chief Operating Officer (COO) of our Tourism Promotions Board (TPB), Marga will have a new brand to guide to success. This time it’s not a clothing or craft line, but our country, the Philippines. In particular, Philippine tourism. And it is a challenge that she accepts!

I’ve known Marga for decades now, so there’s no beating around the bush or flirting between us. I underline the fact that before the pandemic, while we always spoke encouragingly of the increase in the number of foreign visitors year on year, the sad truth is that we came in at a low sixth among eight countries of ASEAN. Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Singapore rank above us, and it’s only Cambodia and Myanmar that we would have an advantage.

While we are already up 86% from 2021 numbers and surpassed conservative 2022 targets with three good months still to come, let’s also accept that 2021 was a pandemic year. So my question is what do we plan to do differently that can see us win over those countries above us? Vietnam only opened its country to foreign visitors in 1997, but quickly transformed from an agrarian economy to a service economy.

Marga replies, “I agree, let’s always be realistic. We can be confident and optimistic but don’t hide from the truth. Before we can talk about comparisons, it is clear that we have to work from within and solve what we can identify as real problems with tourism here. Infrastructure, on the other hand, remains an issue, as our airports are the first impression visitors will have of our country.

“We are now emerging from the shadow of the pandemic situation that has harassed us for more than two long years. We are recovering, can enjoy face-to-face activities, and the 2022 numbers are already a great achievement that we should rally behind and hope for. With self-confidence and a positive attitude, we must act quickly to make up for lost ground.

A robust calendar of tourism promotion here is expected to keep Marga busy over the next few months. There are the ongoing Phitex shows, then London and Berlin. There is also a dive fair in Florida, and Marga is optimistic about MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) to boost visitor arrivals. These are the multidimensional tourism-related conventions and events such as those centered on medical tourism, global travel influencers, and regional trade fairs. As can be seen, it is about creating a wealth of profitable and diverse touchpoints with the global travel community, and ensuring that the Philippines will be front and center.

In my opinion, this is a great strategy because there are so many types and niches of tourists and visitors. What is essential is that we are perceived as accessible, convenient and value for money. Marga also talks about sustainable tourism – how in the Philippine scenario, one aspect of it is strategic partnerships. In making the Philippines an attractive proposition for global hotel and resort chains, we say, “It’s a beautiful country and an opportunity, help us take care of it.” Come visit and help improve it.

This all goes back to what our president said, which is that tourism should be one of the main drivers of economic recovery. There was a time when tourism accounted for up to 12% of our GDP, and there’s no reason why we can’t reach or even exceed it in the near future.

For Marga, one way to achieve this goal is to unearth hidden gems and promote new destinations for travelers. From what I understand, this means that Boracay, Cebu/Mactan, Bohol and even a resurrected Siargao can be considered assets to attract visitors. It is now important that we develop and promote other areas properly.

Siquijor, as a wellness and retirement destination, is a top priority. Then there is Dumaguete with its diving and snorkeling sites, and its five-star accommodations. The Davao to Bukidnon highway offers stellar activities such as strawberry picking, an ATV (all-terrain vehicle) trail, and quaint restaurants. Vigan to Laoag is the ‘jewel’ of North Luzon and there are offers from Calabarzon that take you from Tagaytay, Cavite and to Laguna. It’s about packaging and marketing these destinations so that a variety of options are now compelling reasons to return home again and again.

The Philippine brand is a strong value proposition that needs to be nurtured. It should be experiential – the weave you wear, the food you taste and crave, the memories that are created. The brand is uniquely ours, and every Filipino should be a living ambassador of that collective aura. We are rich in culture and traditions, and we should be proud and celebrate them. It is now a question of telling stories, and of making the world aware of these riches.

With her wealth of experience, her history of doing her best and her best, and the genuine love for our traditions, culture and people that she shares with her husband Karlo, Marga is the perfect person to lead TPB. at this particular stage. Her success is our success, and I know she will dig up literally every rock and pebble to make that success happen.

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