Branson, Mo., may not have the cachet of some resorts-but it has its own cobranded Visa card.
First USA Bank began issuing a platinum card for the midwestern country music mecca last week. The card is targeted not at the town's population of 4,452 but at the six million people who pass through annually to fish, swim, shop, and enjoy concerts and shows.
"Our No. 1 and only industry is tourism," said Branson's mayor, Lou Schaefer.
Branson is one of several municipalities that have turned to credit cards as revenue sources. South Orange, N.J., markets a MasterCard, and Lebanon, Pa., and Washington Township, N.J., have rolled out Visa programs.
Unlike the Branson card, those affinity cards appeal to the civic pride of local residents who know that a percentage of their purchases is earmarked for government coffers.
The Branson Platinum Visa is designed to appeal to deep-pocketed tourists with discounts and benefits at local attractions.
Although the Branson government does not receive proceeds directly, town officials hope the card will fuel their thriving $1 billion tourism industry.
"This is very much a niche product," said Stanley Anderson, president of Anderson & Associates in Arvada, Colo.
Though local discounts may be a draw, Mr. Anderson said it may be a stretch to expect someone who takes a bus trip from Montana for a week in Branson to support the card.
"The risk from the bank's standpoint is that it is tying itself only to Branson," Mr. Anderson said.
Mayor Schaefer said he believes the card program will promote Branson nationally and internationally, bringing more people to town.
The cards are initially being marketed at specially designated booths throughout the town. Later this summer, the cards will be available through First USA's Web site and through direct mail offers.
To attract cardholders, local businesses have banded together to offer a variety of benefits at local attractions, hotels, and stores.
The no-fee card carries an introductory interest rate of 5.9% for five months, then jumps to a fixed 16.9%. Three designs are available, all featuring a road sign that shows Branson's 1990 population of 3,706.
A survey conducted by the Branson Chamber of Commerce indicated that 85% of visitors probably would return to Branson, said Beth Wanser, the chamber's director of marketing.
"Our visitors are very loyal," she said.
Mr. Anderson said many come in tour groups and are often older consumers who are likely to be creditworthy.
"Branson is a new-generation Nashville to the country and western fan," Mr. Anderson said. He said many Branson visitors go on to Nashville, suggesting that First USA may have been better off tying the card more generally to the music.
Country music fans have been of increasing interest to marketers. SunTrust Banks Inc. of Atlanta issues a Visa card with pictures of various country stars, and First Union Corp. is building a $750,000 country music theme branch in Nashville.
Daniel Page, chief executive officer of National Affinity Cards of Boulder, Colo., said rewards targeted to travel and dining are generally high on preference lists.
"It is intriguing that (First USA and Branson) are marketing to people while they are on vacation," said Mr. Page, whose firm does card marketing and consulting. He said research shows consumers are more receptive to new products when they are in a relaxed frame of mind.
"It is a wise use of marketing that is underused in the bank card industry," Mr. Page added.
Classic Visa cards are available for Branson fans who do not qualify for the platinum level, but there is no gold option. First USA Bank is placing less emphasis on gold products as it attempts to move customers and partnership programs to platinum, said Antonius Plohoros, a spokesman for the Delaware subsidiary of First USA Inc.
Mr. Page questioned the wisdom of downplaying gold.
"Platinum cards are a fad that appeals to consumers' vanity and will attract the gold crowd," he said. "Consumers are savvy, and it's only a matter of time before they realize they are offered $100,000 credit lines but end up with $5,000 lines."