Today much is already known about the internationalization patterns of small and medium enterprises (SMEs). However, the research has mainly focused on outward internationalization and more in manufacturing industry than in services (and hardly in the tourism industry). Thus, the paper undertakes an exploratory research in order to verify to what extent the common framework of analysis may explain an internationalization path of SMEs in the tourism sector. To this goal, a case study of a small tour operator in a niche market of weddings abroad in Poland is undertaken. The research seeks to match the firm’s internationalization characteristics with considerations of two dominant theories of SME internationalization: stage models of gradual internationalization (so-called behavioral models) and models of early and rapid internationalization (businesses called ‘born globals’ or ‘international new ventures’). The main findings of the study are twofold. Firstly, even if the general framework of the analysis suits a case of a small tour operator well, still there is a need to adapt the general framework to industry features (in particular, in terms of organization capabilities). Secondly, a further research should also take into account heterogeneity of international activities (in terms of their antecedents and process). Even if a firm is born global, its further internationalization may well be incremental in nature. In particular, an early and rapid internationalization through imports may lead to a gradual internationalization through exports. The former may result from a proactive attitude, be strategy driven, and implied by characteristics of the market and product (well in lines with models of an early and rapid internationalization). The latter, however, may stem from a rather passive attitude with almost no resource commitment (more in lines with models of a gradual and slow internationalization).
Keywords: SMEs, internationalization, stage models, behavioral models, born global firms, international new ventures, international entrepreneurship, tourism industry, tour operator, niche market.