Thailand’s tour operator should move into the Indonesia market due to its substantial population, improved flight connectivity, and an emerging middle class ready to travel according to a Tourism Authority of Thailand presentation to the Association of Thai Travel Agents, Thursday.

Association of Thai Travel Agents secretary, Charoen Wangananont, said Indonesia has a population of 200 million, but more importantly a middle class with cash to spend on travel has emerged.

“We should not overlook this market, as it is quite close and is now served by both low-cost and full service airlines,” he told members at their monthly meeting.

He was commenting on a TAT presentation to ATTA members through a Skype video link up with TAT’s Jakarta office director, Nithee Seeprae, who told the meeting economic and political condition in Indonesia suggested it was a strong emerging market for Thailand.

“Middle class residents with cash to spend increase annually…. there is an estimated 30 million Indonesian-Chinese who have high spending power. This group should be the main target for tour operators to tap.”

Around 70 airlines fly to Indonesia’s capital city Jakarta including THAI Airways International (daily flights), AirAsia (two daily), Garuda (three daily), and Mandala Airlines (daily flights).

“Direct flighs from Bangkok to Indonesia’s secondary destinations as well as indirect flights to Thailand via Malaysia and Singapore open up even more opportunities,” the director added.

MICE, particularly incentives and cooperate groups, along with niche markets such as golf, shopping, female travellers and students were top target segments TAT advised.

Tour operators needed to concentrate on Jakarta, Surabaya the country’s main seaport and commercial centre in the eastern region as well as Medan, Makassar and Semarang. These were the cities with high potential.

“Business owners and family travellers usually travel seasonally, June and August, due to summer school holidays, while Muslims will make a trip after Ramadan and there are many residents who also celebrate Christmas and New Year.”

Besides sightseeing, shopping and food are the top attractions, rather than beach resorts as Indonesians will visit Bali if they want a traditional beach holiday.

TAT is studying tourism products that will connect Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. Potential tours could combine two destinations or possibly three at the most. The sample routes mentioned by the TAT director were: Penang-Hat Yai-Bangkok, and Saigon-Phnom Penh-Angkor Wat-Aranyaprathet-Bangkok-Jakarta.

“TAT will promote other destinations besides Bangkok and Pattaya that already attract Indonesian tourists.…Hua Hin, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Phuket could eventually fit well the market.”

The director then urged the industry to develop Bahasa language skills and focus on service standards to tap quality tourists including presenting five-star hotel and up-market restaurants.

This year, TAT estimates Indonesian travellers to Thailand will increase 15% to 20% to 520,000 visits over 440,000 visits in 2012