China has just 100,000 businesses that accept payment with a Visa card. The US has 5 million.
Visa International Inc, the world's largest credit card company, is counting on its sponsorship of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing to help close the gap.
"Having the Olympics in China is an enormous opportunity for us," said Tom Shepard, 46, executive vice president for sponsorship at San Francisco-based Visa. "Credit-card use is just starting in China, and the Olympics are the door opener."
The Summer Games closed yesterday in Greece, the smallest host nation in 50 years, and are heading to the world's most populous country. For the 11 companies that own global rights to use the Olympic name, the Beijing Games provide a chance to reach 1.3 billion consumers in an economy growing at the fastest pace among the world's 20 biggest economies.
General Electric Co, the world's biggest company by market value, in May joined the likes of Visa, McDonald's Corp and Samsung Group as worldwide Olympic sponsors. Each paid an average of US$79 million in cash and services for rights to use Olympic images in their advertising campaigns.
"We would have signed to sponsor the games whether or not the next ones were in China because we want to market ourselves globally," said Beth Comstock, 43, chief marketing officer at Fairfield, Connecticut-based General Electric. "But obviously the fact that it is in China makes it more exciting."
General Electric intends to boost sales in China to US$5 billion by 2005 from US$2.6 billion last year, Comstock said. The company has already started wrapping Beijing construction sites with ads that use the Olympic logo. Campaigns for General Electric products such as power generation, lighting and water-treatment equipment will begin in September, Comstock said.
Six banks issue Visa credit cards in China, and Visa has sent employees there to show them how to persuade hotels, restaurants and retailers to accept the cards, Shepard said. Visa is also working with China's national tourism board to create package tour offers for Visa cardholders.
Seoul-based Samsung targets annual sales of US$20 billion in China by 2008, up from US$4 billion now, said Sunny Hwang, director general for sports marketing.
The company is working with the Beijing organizing committee to deliver information about the Olympics to Samsung wireless phones, as Samsung aims to double its share of China's US$12 billion mobile-phone market to 22 percent, Hwang said.