Local Personalities: Niti Kongrut

by Dr. Iain Corness

The director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s Central Office (TAT) in Pattaya, covering Chonburi to Samutprakarn, is Niti Kongrut. He is not your average government official, being somewhat of a free-thinker and a philosopher behind his outward appearance of the happy-go-lucky man in the tropical shirt and patchwork jeans.

Niti was born in Bangkok. His father (now retired) was a policeman, and his mother he described as a professional gambler! I suggested that perhaps we shouldn’t write that, but he replied, “It’s OK. I’m proud of that.” (So I’ve left it in!)

His father was transferred around Bangkok and Thailand in his police duties, and Niti and his two younger sisters moved schools with him. He finished his high school at the Bangkok Christian College - “My father moved to the police station next door,” said Niti.

He finished school when he was 19 years old, having to do an extra year because he had been “enjoying life too much,” all said with a grin! His father wanted him to join the police force, but this was not for Niti. “After seeing his life, I said, no way!” He wanted to go to university, but again the pursuits of pleasure kept him back and he failed the entrance examinations. However, he enjoyed the student life and so spent a year with the AUA in Bangkok, after which his father packed him off to the Philippines to complete a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. “I wanted to become a manager, with a minor in gambling and drinking,” said Niti. That may help explain why his degree course took six years!

Returning to Bangkok, it was time for Niti to join the ‘real’ world and he took a job as an advertising salesman in the publishing industry. This covered all the media, print, magazine, radio and TV, and he lived well for the next six years.

One magazine that he came across was produced by the TAT, but, in Niti’s words, “It was lousy.” He approached the then governor of the TAT with ideas on how to make the magazine work for them, but was told that if he really believed that the magazine would work, he should join TAT and work for them, to make it happen. He held out for a while but eventually agreed to join them to push the magazine. “I took three days to make up my mind, and even when I took the job I didn’t know what the salary was or the benefits package.”

One month later he knew, when he received 3,700 baht in his pay envelope. He approached his boss and asked what about the commissions on the advertising he had sold for the magazine, to be told that the government didn’t pay commissions! Similarly, it didn’t pay for his expenses either. Suddenly he had gone from a post with a great expense account, to penury.

He spoke about this with his mother, since she had been so pleased that he had joined the government service, rather than spending his time entertaining clients in Patpong in the evenings. She implored him to stay there in a stable job, and she promised she would support him and pay him to the same level as the government. “So I stayed, but Mum only paid the first month!”

After two years he closed down the TAT publication and went into their advertising section. Having to go through the government processes which entailed accepting the lowest tender for printing, resulted in unacceptable quality, as far as Niti was concerned. “With poor quality you end up with no advertisers.”

He spent five years in the advertising section, but it was time for a transfer. He was given the choice of assistant director in London, or director in Phuket. Blue skies and golden sands were much more attractive than grey skies and wet pavements, and Niti settled in to Phuket.

However, after four years, the new incumbent in the role as governor of the TAT decided that Niti was enjoying Phuket more than the tourists and a transfer was in order again. Salesman Niti tried to swing the concept of his becoming regional director, floating around the Andaman Sea in a yacht, doing everything by phone. Needless to say, the new governor was not impressed and Niti was sent to Los Angeles.

This time it was Niti who was not impressed. “This was the hardest time in my whole life. I was responsible for the west coast of America, half of Canada, all of Mexico and Latin America, and I had four staff. I was home for ten days every month. My life was airports and hotels. I lasted four years and fifteen days!”

He returned to Bangkok, to the advertising section of the TAT again, this time as the director, but was soon sent to Phitsanulok, where he enjoyed having a car, trekking in the national forests and an entertainment budget again. However, with the director of the local Pattaya office being moved to Bangkok, they needed someone here. It was time for Niti to move once more.

He enjoys being in Pattaya, and believes that he can change the standing of our town. The first thing he has done is to drop the ‘Extreme City’ and change it to ‘The City of Variety’. He can also see ways to rid Pattaya of the ‘Sin City’ reputation, but adds that it is Pattaya itself that must want to change, not just TAT. A very philosophical approach.

Niti’s hobbies include “Drinking with friends,” doing business the Thai way. He also enjoys golf, as you can socialize after the rounds, and diving, “You don’t have to answer the phone!”

As far as his future ambition is concerned, Niti said, “I want to be the resident manager of a small hotel. I don’t need a salary, just membership to a golf club and an unlimited entertainment budget. I’ve got a lot of friends!”

Khun Niti, I’m sure you have!