The small middle-American town of Branson, Missouri is becoming a popular tourist destination. It has fewer than 8,000 residents -- but attracts seven million visitors each year. Most are Americans, but there are visitors from other countries, too. VOA's Zulima Palacio explains why the town is so popular.
Branson, in the Midwestern U.S. state of Missouri, is a jewel of fun and scenery in the heart of America. It is known around the world for its big stars and family-centered shows -- 100 a day in 47 theaters. Branson's fare ranges from music and dance to magic and comedy, along with shopping and theme parks.
Branson mayor Lou Schaefer says, "They get a variety of entertainment here in one area that you can't find anywhere, you can't go to Las Vegas and find the types of shows we have here, and we have some Las Vegas types of shows. But it's not all Las Vegas. It's not all Orlando. It's not Nashville. It's not all the other entertainment community but is some of all of them."
That includes such veteran entertainers as Andy Williams, Wayne Newton and Dolly Parton -- who attract family-oriented visitors. Most of the action stretches along a busy eight kilometer-long street featuring parks, theaters, restaurants and lodging.
A multimillion-dollar commercial development called "Branson Landing" has more than 41,000 square meters of retail shops and restaurants with an impressive fountain show.
But the shows are the main draw. Branson's entertainment roots stretch back 47 years. The Mabe family used to entertain the locals with music and laughter. Over the years they became known as the Baldknobbers. The brothers who created the show are retired now, but their children and grandchildren have continued the family tradition.
Bret Mabe is the bass player and band director. "My dad and uncle started this show in 1959, before I was born. When I was a baby, they would literally lay me in a guitar case, while my dad was out on the stage doing the show, I would sleep in a guitar case."
Twelve thousand shows later the Mabes have their own theater with a faithful audience. Tim Mabe, also known as Droopy Drawers junior, inherited the comic character created by his father decades ago.
"I need some work on the teeth, don't I? I have people come through all the time to tell me they know a dentist I need to go," he says jokingly.
And after some laughing he shows us his real smile.
Branson is surrounded by the green and gentle Ozark Mountains. There are three lakes for fly-fishing and water sports -- and more development on the way.
Michael Ranking is the city's economic director. "Branson's history has been to spike in development and I think you're going to see more long term growth. For the next three to five years several residential projects are on the books, a lot more retail, [and] there will be another theater or two."
It all adds up to a tourism industry that pumps one and a half billion dollars into the local economy each year.