Tourism Promotions Board Chief Operating Officer

by AYUNAN GUNTING

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When the Philippines lures potential travelers with underwater photos
of marine life and gleaming beaches, most likely, there would be more
interest than it had hoped for.
At the Arabian Travel Mart Dubai last May, the country’s marketing
arm, the Tourism Promotions Board (TBP), prudently spent P8 million
for the booth at one of the world’s major travel trade shows. In return, it
gained P1 billion worth of sales leads. The strengths of its message–
international awards such as the world’s leading destination for diving
and beaches—and the enthusiastic sales team helped the Philippine
booth to stand out in the trade show despite the modest budget and the
competition for visitors.
Seeing the heightened interest in the Middle East, TBP Chief Operating
Officer Maria Margarita “Marga” Montemayor Nograles, has been using
her knowledge as a fashion retailer to develop marketing strategies to
bring in more tourists. Likewise, after 18 months in her post, Marga has
made of fist of improvements in TPB and increased its productivity,
owing to her business skills and unified team work.
“We are realigning, organizing and setting the purpose of what we are
doing and why we are doing. The team is working closely more than
ever. Because of that, our numbers are better. We are more inspired and
excited to work,” says the TBP COO.
Born and raised in Davao, Marga was exposed to the travel industry
from her mother, Mary Ann “Baby” Maceda Montemayor who set up a
hotel and was president of the Davao Tourism Association (DTA) and a
member of Skål International.
  • “She and her Davao group broke their backs to promote Davao when
    nobody cared back in the ‘70s and ‘80s,” recalls Marga.
    Montemayor had since become Mindanao representative of the Micro,
    Small and Medium Enterprises of the Department of Trade and Industry
    and is in charge of the MICE (meetings, incentive, conventions,
    exhibitions) of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines.
    Ahead of her time, Montemayor grabbed attention when she sported
    jackets made from woven fabrics of the Mandayas and T’bolis. The
    modern usage of traditional fabrics drew interest in our weaving
    traditions. In 2017, Kaayo clothing line was set to help a mother-and-
    daughter weaving team from Lake Sebu.
    In fashion retail, Marga started out as women’s buyer for Paul Smith
    in Greenbelt 5 and frequently went to Paris for buying trips. After four
    years with the brand, she became an entrepreneur and exclusive
    distributor of Havaianas in southeast Mindanao. She has been running it
    for 20 years. Her region posted the highest sales per square meter. Using
    her business savvy, she professionalized the operations and the
    merchandising of Kaayo.
    “Mom and I wanted to Filipinos to love our products. They are not too
    expensive. Mom would talk to the tribes and showed how we should
    respect them. Mom worked with them all her life. There was trust. Most
    important was that we are working towards a sustainable livelihood for
    them,” says Marga.
    Between fashion and family, Marga was the proverbial power spouse
    behind the man’s success. When her husband, Karlo Nograles was
    congressman, she headed the Congressional Spouses Foundation Inc for
    Mindanao. She continued to be the supportive wife when he was Cabinet
    member in President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration and now
    chairman of the Civil Service Commission.
  • In 2022, Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco invited Marga to join
    government. During her term as mayor of Liloan in Cebu, Frasco
    frequently wore Kaayo. If she liked a style, she bought it in different
    colors. The politician was impressed that Kaayo had evolved not only as
    an aspirational brand but as a social enterprise that supported indigenous
    weavers. Kaayo had developed a strong following that bought its clothes
    and accessories knowing that their purchase would help underserved
    communities.
    “I had never worked in government before but Sec (Frasco) said ‘You
    are more prepared than anyone I know.’ She believed in me. I said I will
    give my best to you, the President and the country,” says Marga. “She
    was right. I realized that my work has been what I had been doing all my
    life.”
    Upon her government appointment, Marga turned over Kaayo to her
    team. Elvira “Tootsie” Angara has been helping in the marketing and the
    design particularly from the indigenous groups of Cordilleras.
    “She wanted to celebrate their weaves by incorporating them into our
    collection,” says Marga.
    Kaayo’s sales at Greenbelt 5 and the showroom in Robinsons
    Magnolia have been healthy. Angara’s collection of indigenous
    handwoven hearts sewn onto shirts are very salable.
    Marga has been concentrating on TBP which, she says, is blessed
    with a committed team. Her initial vision was to grease the wheels. As a
    result, TBP was recently acknowledged as one of the most improved
    agencies according to the Governance Commission for Government-
    Owned or Controlled Corporations. TBP got a thumbs up for its
    transparency in the budget and how it was used wisely, the liquidation
    status of it foreign offices, advertising and promotions budget and its
    returns and contribution to tourism arrivals.
  • Tourism is an important economic driver in the country which
    contributes 6.2 percent to the GDP. The Department of Tourism set a
    target of 4.8 million arrivals in 2023. By yearend, the arrivals are
    expected to reach over 5 million.
    Marga attributes the statistics to the relationship building and reaching
    to the world and around the Philippines.
    Another advancement is the enhanced Travel Philippines app which
    addresses frequently asked questions about the Philippines and how to
    get there.
    “Europeans feel it’s far away. With this app, you can see snippets from
    17 regions, done in partnership with the regional directors. They tell us
    the most unique experience in their regions. What you are selling is in
    the app. You go to the app and it will lead you to your tour guide who
    will craft your itinerary. Focus is important,” says Marga.
    As the world emerged from the pandemic, TBP strengthened its
    presence in major travel trade shows such as the World Travel Mart in
    London and ITB Berlin.
    Like the rest of the travel industry, TBP aims to strengthen the
    promotion of the Philippines as a MICE destination. “We are strong in
    creativity and are experienced in taking care of big groups. The MICE
    tourist spends as much as four times than the average tourist,” she says.
    Then again, Marga will continue with her first passion project,
    community-based tourism which was inspired by Kaayo which used
    fashion and culture as tourism motivators.
    “TBP has strong support for indigenous programs. I set up B2B
    (business to business) meetings in some communities. Brand builders
    and designers went to create collections or act as mentors while they
    promoted destinations,” she says.
    Designer Puey Quinones met weavers around Lake Sebu. Students of
    SoFA Design Institute crafted project plans to promote destinations and
  • visited Iloilo. Designers Avel Bacudio and Mark Bumgarner went to the
    Cordilleras where the latter drew inspiration for his gown for Miss
    Universe Philippines Michelle Dee.
    “We can’t jump into another project until we see the post-event
    report. In any project, you have to see it through and finish before you
    start something else,” she says. “We are more aligned this way.”
    Marga credits Sec. Frasco for keeping the TBP on its toes. “She taught
    us to strive for excellence in everything that we do. She is very
    thorough. She asks what is the purpose of what we are doing. At end of
    the day, we want to give livelihood to Filipinos.