Weekly Local Biography

  Junnapong Saranak

The new director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Northern Region 1 is a very affable TAT career professional, Junnapong Saranak. Despite joining TAT 27 years ago, he is no stranger to hard physical work, and also understands the frustrations of youth being denied employment because of lack of experience (when nobody will give them the opportunity to gain that experience!).

Junnapong was born in Chaiyapoom province, the youngest child of a provincial court judge, and Junnapong’s mother was from Phrae - a teacher of home economics and a housewife. With his father moving between different provinces, his schooling was somewhat disjointed, but eventually he was sent to Bangkok to complete his secondary education.

He began his tertiary education, not in Law, as his father might have liked, but in Agricultural Science at Kasetsart University. “I remember my father coming in at night to teach my elder brother about the Law, and I didn’t want that,” said Junnapong. He also added that his father did allow him to make his own decisions. However he did not like agriculture either and after one year went to Chulalongkorn university to study Mass Communications, which at that time was not as popular as it is today.

During his course he did not initially worry about where he would work after graduation, “You don’t look to the future,” said Junnapong, “because you are having such a good time!” But as time wore on, he realised he had to start preparing for post-graduate life, so went to the government’s Economic Development office for vocational work experience, hoping that this would give him an introduction to the department later.

He graduated and applied there for a job, only to find there were 100 candidates in front of him! In desperation he accepted the job as a ‘manager’ in a fish cannery in Trang, owned by the father of one of his friends. He found afterwards that his ‘managerial’ position meant he had to get up at three o’clock in the morning and drive to the fishing port to select the fish for that day’s canning, put them in ice and drive to the factory in time to supply the workforce with the product to be prepared for processing. He managed 12 months as the ‘manager’ but was actively looking for other employment.

His mother was also actively looking for employment for her youngest child and would arrange interviews for him. Every time he would pass the written test, but fail at the interview when he would be asked, “What experience do you have?”

Finally he had an interview with the Tourism Authority of Thailand for a position in their staff welfare department. This time he did have experience, after 12 months of looking after the staff (and everything else) in the fish cannery, and he was hired. No longer did he have to get up at three in the morning for a date with a cold fish! He was even started at level three (out of 11 in the TAT) because he had his bachelor’s degree as well as his experience.

Being in the TAT is similar to being in many government bodies, in that the incumbent has to be ready to move around. Junnapong was now no different in that respect to his father who did the Law circuit, except Junnapong was embarking on the tourism circuit. But an advantage of the tourism circuit is that you get to spend time overseas.

He began the slow upward haul within the TAT (currently at level eight) and took in time overseas, as well as alternating with time in Thailand. This is actually his second stint in Chiang Mai, the previous time being 12 years ago, after he had returned from a four year tour of duty in Tokyo. At that time he was an assistant director, but after 16 months at that level, he was offered the position of director - but in Tak province. Again the downside of being shunted around rose for Junnapong and his family. They had come to like living in Chiang Mai, but to keep Junnapong going up the ladder of ascendancy, something had to be sacrificed. The compromise was reached whereby the family would stay in Chiang Mai, while Junnapong would commute every weekend. In the next six years, he and his motorcar made the sacrifice, racking up some incredible distances with the weekend trips.

After Tak it was off overseas again, this time to Taiwan to interest the Taiwanese tourists in coming to Thailand for their holidays. One of the favoured destinations for his Taiwanese clients was also one of Junnapong’s favourites - Chiang Mai, and after four years of extolling the Rose of the North’s attractions, he returned here, with his family who had been with him in Taiwan.

He enjoys the work, saying, “It is an opportunity to do your job in creating your own marketing promotions.” He also mentioned the differences in marketing techniques between ‘short-haul’ tourists (Asian countries) and the ‘long haul’ tourists (USA), and how it is his position to be able to work out how explore both these potential markets for the domestic product, in this case Chiang Mai.

In his stated aims, he indicated that he wants to show the world the different tourism products that are available in Chiang Mai, and also items that are available in their own home countries such as golf and spas, but are much cheaper here.

His personal aims include hopes that he might once more go overseas, but to the ‘middle haul’ market regions (Europe) or the ‘long haul’ (America), rather than the Asian destinations. “This is not just for me, but for my family also,” said Junnapong.

His long term goal is to retire in Chiang Mai and tend to his garden when he is outside, and when indoors, to continue with his one consuming hobby, which is stamp collecting. Not just any stamps, but Thai First Day covers.

Welcome back, Khun Junnapong.