Market bonanza as Chinese tourists search for more

by Ian Williams

Chinese tourists are pouring into South Australia in ever increasing numbers – and they aren’t just here for a wonderful time.

Adelaide’s China expert Sean Keenihan says the Chinese live up to their industrious reputation in every respect when they land on our shores.

While all tourists want to have fun, see the sites and unwind, Chinese visitors are also checking out our state for other opportunities.

And Sean says that’s great news for South Australian businesses – providing they are ‘China ready’.

“They are definitely not your average tourist,” says Sean.

“Beyond the direct tourism spend is a much bigger and broader opportunity, because tourism is very much the off-ramp for Chinese people to look at other products and opportunities beyond the visitor experience.

“While they are here they are also looking at everything from health and education services to property and business investment, as well as business migration opportunities. And they also have a propensity to buy Australian when they get home.”

It’s a potentially huge multiplier on top of the average $6,200 they spend as tourists when they are here – which is higher than any other visitor.

On current figures the tourism value alone is worth about $240 million a year to the South Australian economy and this is expected to nearly double by an additional $200 million over the next three years.

Sean is wearing various hats in his efforts to ensure South Australia capitalises on this economic bonanza as well as the even more lucrative value adds.

Sean Keenihan

Chairman of the South Australian Tourism Commission and China expert, Sean Keenihan

The chairman of partners at Norman Waterhouse law firm is strategic adviser to the South Australian Government on China and national vice president of the Australia China Business Council, as well as president of the state branch.

Over the years he has accrued a wealth of knowledge on how the Chinese operate – and some of the credit for this goes to a former primary school teacher.

“When I was at primary school I chose French as my high school language but my Year 7 teacher thought I was up for a challenge and that I should do Chinese,” says Sean. “And my parents agreed.”

He took their advice and after high school won an Australian Government Scholarship to study intensive Mandarin in China for a year.

After graduating as a lawyer, he practised locally and then abroad, including advising Chinese businessmen investing and operating in Indonesia, before returning to help the South Australian Government develop its China strategy.

“We’ve put the building blocks in place for local companies to very quickly acquire the necessary skills and generate business leads to take advantage of the huge growth potential in the Chinese market,” he says.

“And these days we aren’t just selling them rocks and crops – we’re selling valued-added goods and services, which means we must cater to specific customer tastes and expectations.

“The challenge is that it’s not going to fall in our laps – we need to make a conscious decision to engage this market and be more sophisticated in how we do business.”