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Networks, technology and regional development: small tourism enterprises in Western Southland, New Zealand
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Tourism is increasingly being used as a tool to stimulate regional development in rural areas. Small tourism enterprises (STE) lie at the heart of the industry and form a major part of the tourism sector. Characterised by flexible organisational structures and small size, STE are well positioned to respond to a growing demand for unique personalised visitor experiences. Information and communications technologies (ICT) enhance access to information, improve the efficiency of business activities and promote networking between businesses, community and travellers at the local, regional and international level.Western Southland is a predominantly rural region in the far south of New Zealand. Promoting the development of a cohesive tourism industry in the Western Southland region will benefit individual operators, their communities and the region as a whole. Using the case of Western Southland, this study explores the profile and characteristics of STE; their perceptions of the value of networking and collaboration, and their attitudes towards and use of ICT. Also considered are the implications of STE attitudes and behaviour in relation to the New Zealand Tourism Strategy and the New Zealand Digital Strategy goals in shaping regional development. A variety of business and community stakeholders are part of the broader case study contributing a rich understanding of the dynamics of the region. A mixed method approach is used to collect data through a series of semi-structured interviews and a survey. Key findings show that limited planned networking is occurring and there is a need to increase STE awareness of the benefits of collaborative activities in order to promote active engagement with other STE. Existing networks are found to be largely informal and embedded in the social and cultural context of communities. The level of ICT use by STE varies, and considerable support is required to encourage operators to upskill. National development goals promote ideals of sustainable communities and businesses, and are aligned with what operators envisage for their region.