Barbecue hotspot Zibo braces for sizzling influx of tourists

Zibo, famous for its iconic barbecues, has become China's latest tourist hotspot to rein in hotel price hikes and implement tourist-friendly policies.
Barbecue hotspot Zibo braces for sizzling influx of tourists

People wait in line to get into a barbecue restaurant in Zibo, Shandong Province, on April 29, 2023.

Zibo, famous for its iconic barbecues, has become China's latest tourist hotspot to rein in hotel price hikes and implement tourist-friendly policies to cater to the holiday fervor.

The low-profile industrial city in east China's Shandong Province has unexpectedly become one of the most popular tourist attractions in China, with the tourism sector recovering at full tilt in the post-epidemic era.

In a letter to tourists, the city's culture and tourism bureau said hotels in Zibo's city proper have been fully booked. It noted that the influx of tourists has exceeded the reception capacity and asked tourists to travel off-peak or consider other cities in Shandong.

Zibo's market regulation administration has issued a notice prohibiting hotels in the city from raising room rates by more than 50 percent during the five-day May Day holiday, which begins on Saturday.

The move received widespread attention after a tourist from Suzhou said in a viral media report that his hotel fee in Zibo was halved after the hotel heeded the notice on capping price hikes.

In another notice, the city government has asked local hotels, restaurants, scenic spots and barbecue stands to maintain business integrity and avoid price gouging.

Zibo shot to national fame earlier this year after social media influencers hyped up the unique local barbecue — grilled meat wrapped in crispy pancakes with shallots. Initially popular among college students due to its unique taste, DIY style and affordability, the dish has now attracted swarms of tourists to the city.

Local authorities said hotel bookings for the May Day holiday soared by 800 percent from the pre-pandemic level in 2019. Train tickets from Beijing to Zibo on May 1 were sold out in just one minute.

"Some customers arrived in the morning and waited until evening to enjoy a barbecue supper," said Yang Benxin, owner of a local barbecue eatery Muyangcun.

According to another barbecue restaurant Kangshan, they have sold more than 10,000 skewers of pork, mutton, chicken wings and vegetables a day during the past few weeks.

"We have increased our tables from 60 to 200 to cater to the influx of diners," said Zhu Wenbin, the restaurant's owner.

The recent government calls have triggered a second flurry of comments, with many netizens praising the city for showing sober restraint rather than rushing to maximize profits.

"I am glad to see that the city is prioritizing enhancing the experience for tourists and improving its image, rather than solely capitalizing on its overnight fame," reads one comment on the popular microblogging site Sina Weibo.

Like many other Chinese cities, Zibo has been promoting its local tourism and cuisines, including the barbecue, over the years, but officials said the latest travel frenzy came as a surprise, putting a lot of pressure on the management of the local tourist market.

The city has rolled out a series of policies to facilitate visitors, including allowing them to exchange train tickets for free entrance tickets to local scenic spots.

Local transport authorities said they deployed extra trains and added 21 bus lines for the transportation of barbecuers. The two local train stations have also increased the number of volunteers to help new arrivals.

China saw nearly 1.22 billion domestic tourist trips in the first quarter of 2023, up 46.5 percent year on year, according to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Both the Spring Festival and the Qingming Festival recorded significant yearly rises in the number of tours.

In response, many Chinese tourist cities and provinces, including Beijing, Sichuan and Yunnan, have vowed to safeguard the market rebound and guard against tourist rip-offs and price gouging.

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