Small businesses have been identified as a catalyst for creating jobs and generally growing the economy. One sector that is characterised by the proliferation of small businesses is that of the tourism industry. Key to this sector reaching its full potential is, however, access to markets. The Internet is seen by many as playing a valuable role in helping small tourism businesses understand their markets better, extend their reach, and serve their customers more effectively, irrespective of its geographical location. However, identifying the factors that influence the success of the use of the Internet for marketing is proving challenging.
The focus of this study is the identification of those organisational factors that are present in a small tourism business irrespective of whether or not the Internet is utilised, but which will influence the success with which the Internet can be used to market the business. These are distinct from the factors implicit in the implementation of the Internet or the technology per se. If these factors can be identified and their relative influence on Internet marketing success be determined, it will allow small tourism businesses to access markets more readily. The results indicate that having an entrepreneurial orientation and understanding the needs of customers are important to the successful use of the Internet for the marketing of small tourism businesses in South Africa.
The importance of small businesses to economic growth in general and job creation in particular is often emphasised. Some authors for instance, point to the high labour absorption capacity of small businesses (Zimmerer and Scarborough, 2002; Pitt, 1996) suggesting that small businesses generate wealth at a faster rate than larger firms. They also point out that the growth in numbers of people employed by small businesses is greater than the growth in the contribution of these enterprises to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). For example, in 2001, the increase in the number of people employed by small businesses in South Africa was 1.5 times the growth in the contribution of these entities to (GDP) (Ntsika, 2002).
Small business development, particularly for developing economies, thus becomes an attractive focus area in addressing the perennial problems of unemployment, low economic growth and the subsequent negative impact on social development in general (South Africa, 1995).
Tourism in particular has been identified as a sector that can play a significant role in small business development in South Africa (South Africa, 1998; South Africa, 1996), given the fact that the majority of tourism ventures are small business ventures. The importance of tourism to the South African economy is illustrated by the latest estimates from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), which show that the travel and tourism industry was expected to contribute 2.9 percent to GDP in 2003, rising to 3.6 percent by 2013. The broader travel and tourism economy was expected to contribute 7.3 percent to GDP in 2003, growing to 8.8 percent by 2013. In terms of jobs, it was estimated that in 2003 the travel and tourism industry accounted for 491 741 jobs or 2.9 percent of total employment, and by 2013 this is anticipated to increase to 751 100 jobs or 3.7 percent of the total number of people employed. The total number of jobs in the broader travel and tourism economy was estimated at 1 118 530 jobs, 6.6 percent of total employment, and by 2013 this is expected to rise to 1 650 140 jobs or 8.2 percent of total employment (WTTC, 2003).
Despite these impressive figures, it has been pointed out that tourism is an "under-performing" sector with considerable potential for expansion (WTTC, 2002). A recent World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) Report (2002) criticised the progress being made in tourism in South Africa as being unsatisfactory and not accomplishing the targets set by the WTTC in 1996. …