Key success factors for internationalised Inbound Tour Operators in the South African Travel and Tourism industry
The South African government has earmarked the Travel and Tourism industry as a key sector for economic growth as it plays an important role in stimulating the South African economy. Over the last few years the industry has placed greater emphasis on tour packages being offered to tourists, with one key group, Inbound Tour Operators, emerging to fulfil this important role. However, there have been limited studies conducted in the South African context which aim to isolate generalizable key success factors (KSFs) in the Travel and Tourism sector. By focusing on two important research streams, competitive advantage and international entrepreneurship, this study identified nine main KSFs. These KSFs were developed using Thomas and Long's KSF model (Thomas and Long, 2000). The general research approach was a qualitative, multiple-case study whereby six firms were selected from the inbound tour operator sub-sector of the SA tourism industry. The research methodology used in-depth interviews which were conducted with an industry expert and owner-managers of small, mediumand large inbound tour operators, serving and operating in international markets. This helped to gain an understanding of the complex and intricate ways that these firms comprehend KSFs and build their international strategy. As a result of this research approach, it was possible to identify how these KSF variables are influenced through management's decisions and how they essentially affect the overall competitive positions of the various firms in the industry. It also led to novel findings which challenged conventional international entrepreneurship thinking, such as the Uppsala approach, on the basis that firms do not only follow sequential steps when internationalising their businesses. It was found that entrepreneurial firms internationalise their businesses from the outset and extensively leverage off of internet-based technology and utilise export-based activities to engage international markets. The implications of the findings show that existing and new tour operators entering the tourism industry have clear KSFs which they can target in order to achieve success. These factors are variables which management can influence through their decision-making and affect the overall competitive positions of their firm in the industry. Nonetheless, further studies are required to identify KSFs in the other sectors within the tourism industry to provide valuable insights regarding how the international competitiveness of the local tourism industry as a whole may be improved.