Rebooting a country’s brand: Marga Montemayor-Nograles and TPB – Manila Bulletin

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Published October 20, 2022, 10:00 AM
by Philip Cu Unjieng
Nurturing and enhancing a brand is nothing new to Marga Montemayor-Nograles. It’s not only written in her blood, but it is part of her DNA. Growing up, she would watch her mother promote their Davao hotel and restaurant, and do work with a number of the indigenous tribes of Mindanao.
Marga also put up 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 artisan communities of handloom weavers and revive what was then an endangered textile sub-industry. The success of Kaayo over five fruitful years is testimony to Marga’s determination, resourcefulness, and her business and marketing acumen.
As the new Chief Operating Officer (COO) of our Tourism Promotions Board (TPB), Marga will have a new brand to shepherd to success. This time, it’s not an apparel line or artisanal craft, but our country, the Philippines. In particular, Philippine tourism. And it’s a challenge she welcomes!
I’ve known Marga for decades now, so there’s no beating around the bush or sugar-coating between us. I point out the fact that pre-pandemic, while we would always talk encouragingly of year-on-year rising foreign visitor figures, the sad truth is that we would come in a weak sixth among eight ASEAN nations. Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Singapore rank above us, and it’s only Cambodia and Myanmar we would have an edge on.
While we’re already up by 86 percent from 2021 figures and exceeded the 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 are we planning to do differently that can see us gaining on those countries above us? Vietnam only opened their country to foreign visitors in 1997, yet rapidly shifted from an agrarian 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 talk about comparatives, it’s clear we have to work from within and fix what we can identify are real issues with Tourism here. Infrastructure, for one, is still very much a problem, as our airports make up the first impression visitors will have of our country.”
“We’re now coming out of the shadow of the pandemic situation that hounded us for more than two long years. We’re recovering, can enjoy face to face activities, and the 2022 figures are already a big feat that we should rally behind, and be hopeful about. With belief in ourselves and a positive outlook, we must move fast to make up the lost ground.”
A strong calendar of promoting tourism here is slated to keep Marga busy over the next months. There’s the ongoing Phitex, then London and Berlin fairs. There’s also a Dive Fair in Florida, and Marga is bullish about MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) to jumpstart visitor arrivals. These are the conventions and multi-dimensional tourism-related events such as those centered on medical tourism, global-travel influencers, and regional trade fairs. As can be gleaned, it’s about creating a multitude of cost-efficient and diverse touch points with the global community of travelers, and ensuring the Philippines will be top of mind.
In my opinion, it’s a great strategy—as there are so many types and niches of tourists and visitors. Whats essential is that we’re perceived as accessible, convenient, and value for money spent. Marga also talks of sustainable tourism—of how in the Philippine scenario, one aspect of this is strategic partnerships. By making the Philippines an attractive proposition to global hotel and resort chains, we’re saying, “It’s a beautiful country and opportunity, help us take care of it. Come visit and help make it better.”
This all ties in with what our president has been saying, that tourism should be one of the big drivers of economic recovery. There was a time when tourism represented up to 12 percent of our GDP, and there’s no reason we can’t attain, and even exceed that, in the near future.
For Marga, one way to reach that goal is to unearth hidden gems, promote new destination for travelers. From what I understood, this means that the likes of Boracay, Cebu/Mactan, Bohol, and even a revived Siargao, can be seen as givens in attracting visitors. It’s now important that we properly develop and promote other areas.
Siquijor as a wellness destination and retreat, is a high priority. Then there’s Dumaguete with it’s diving and snorkelling, and five-star accomodations. The Davao to Bukidnon highway has such stellar activities as strawberry-picking, an ATV (All-Terain Vehicle) trail, and quaint restaurants. Vigan to Laoag is the Northern Luzon “gem,” and there are Calabarzon offerings that take you from Tagaytay, Cavite, and to Laguna. It’s about packaging and marketing these destination so that a variety of options are now made compelling reasons to return to the country time 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 for, the memories that are created. The brand is uniquely ours, and each and every Filipino should be a living Ambassador to this collective aura. We are rich in culture and traditions, and we should be proud of them and celebrate them. It’s now a matter of story telling, and making the world aware of these riches.
With her wealth of experience, her history of doing her best and the 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 particular juncture. Her success is our success, and I know she’ll literally unearth each rock and pebble to make that success happen.
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