Nurturing and enhancing a brand is nothing new to Marga Montemayor-Nograles. It’s not just written in her blood, it’s part of her DNA. Growing up, she watched her mother promote her hotel and restaurant in Davao and collaborate with a number of Mindanao indigenous tribes.
Marga also launched her own fashion brand, Kaayo, in 2017. A brand that has strong elements of sustainability even before the word became a buzzword here. It champions artisanal communities of hand weavers and revitalizes a then-endangered textile industry. Kaayo’s success over five fruitful years is a testament to Marga’s determination, resourcefulness, and business and marketing acumen.
As the new Chief Operating Officer (COO) of our Tourism Promotions Board (TPB), Marga will lead a new brand to success. This time it’s not a clothing line or handicrafts, but our country, the Philippines. Philippine tourism in particular. And it’s a challenge that welcomes them!
I’ve known Marga for decades now, so there’s no chatter or sugar icing between us. I would point out that while before the pandemic we always spoke encouragingly of increasing foreign visitor numbers year after year, the sad truth is that we would rank a weak sixth out of eight ASEAN countries. Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Singapore are ahead of us and only Cambodia and Myanmar would have an advantage.
While we’re already 86 percent ahead of 2021 numbers and have beaten conservative targets for 2022 with three good months to go, we should also accept that 2021 was a pandemic year. So my question is, what are we planning to do differently so that we can win over the countries above us? Vietnam only opened its country to foreign visitors in 1997, but quickly transformed from an agricultural economy to a service economy.
Marga replies: “I agree, let’s always be realistic. We can be confident and optimistic, but let’s not hide from the truth. Before we can start talking about comparisons, it’s clear that we need to work from within and fix what we can identify as real problems with tourism here. On the one hand, the infrastructure is still a big problem, because our airports shape the first impression that visitors will have of our country.”
“We are now stepping out of the shadow of the pandemic situation that has dogged us for more than two long years. We’re recovering, enjoying face-to-face activities, and the numbers for 2022 are already a great achievement to rally behind and be hopeful about. With faith in ourselves and a positive attitude, we must act quickly to make up lost ground.”
A strong calendar promoting tourism here is set to keep Marga busy for the next few months. There is the ongoing Phitex, then the trade fairs in London and Berlin. There’s also a dive show in Florida, and Marga is optimistic about MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) to boost visitor arrivals. These are the congresses and multi-dimensional tourism-related events, e.g. B. those focused on medical tourism, global travel influencers, and regional trade shows. As can be seen, it is about creating a variety of cost-effective and diverse touchpoints with the global traveler community and ensuring that the Philippines is at the forefront.
In my opinion it’s a great strategy – as there are so many types and niches of tourists and visitors. It is crucial that we are perceived as accessible, convenient and inexpensive. Marga also speaks of sustainable tourism – as in the Philippine scenario, one aspect of this is strategic partnerships. By 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 by and help make it better.”
This all aligns with what our President has said that tourism should be one of the big drivers of economic recovery. There was a time when tourism accounted for up to 12 percent of our GDP and there is no reason why we cannot match and even surpass that in the near future.
For Marga, one way to achieve this goal is by discovering hidden gems and promoting new travel destinations. From my understanding this means that places like Boracay, Cebu/Mactan, Bohol and even a revived Siargao can be taken for granted to attract visitors. Now it is important that we develop and promote other areas properly.
Siquijor as a wellness destination and retreat has a high priority. Then there’s Dumaguete with its diving and snorkeling opportunities and five star accommodation. The Davao to Bukidnon Highway offers outstanding activities such as strawberry picking, an ATV (All-Terrain Vehicle) track and quaint restaurants. Vigan to Laoag is the ‘gem’ of North Luzon and there are Calabarzon offerings that take you from Tagaytay, Cavite and into Laguna. It’s about packaging and marketing these destinations in such a way that a variety of options now become compelling reasons to keep coming back to the country.
The Filipino brand is a strong value proposition that needs to be nurtured. It should be experiential – the fabric you wear, the food you taste and crave, the memories created. The brand is uniquely ours, and every single Filipino should be a living ambassador of that collective aura. We are rich in culture and traditions and we should be proud of them and celebrate them. Now it’s about telling stories and making the world aware of these riches.
With her wealth of experience, history of doing her best and utmost and the genuine love for our traditions, culture and people that she shares with husband Karlo, Marga is the ideal person to lead the TPB at this special juncture. Her success is our success and I know she will literally dig up every rock and pebble to make that success a reality.
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