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Zibo retains its unique flavor among tourists

Famed city of BBQ trying to go beyond culinary delights to attract more visitors in long run

By LIU YUKUN | China Daily | Updated: 2024-04-11 09:59
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Zhang Xueyan, owner of Zibo Big Chimney Grilled Fish & Barbecue, serves dishes at her restaurant in Zibo, Shandong province, in February. [WANG JING/CHINA DAILY]

As the aroma from grilled lamb skewers amid sizzling charcoal fires fills the air, the local people of Zibo and tourists alike are indulging in the culinary delights of the city's bustling barbecue scene.

With small grills fired up and tables running full, the barbecue fever remains ablaze even in spring, turning the city in Shandong province once again into a hot spot for gastronomic delights.

This has also concurrently spurred growth in tourism, injecting fresh impetus into the economic development of the industrial city.

The popularity index of Zibo surged 137 percent year-on-year during this year's Spring Festival, or Chinese Lunar New Year holiday, making it a magnet for tourists, latest data from online travel agency showed.

The boom continued to April. According to Meituan, an online booking services provider, during the Tomb Sweeping Day holiday that ended Saturday, the volume of cultural and tourism orders in Zibo increased by over 130 percent compared to the previous year. Apart from local users, there was also an influx of visitors from Beijing, Tianjin, Shijiazhuang, and other places. LY data showed that during the holiday, hotel bookings in Zibo increased by 58 percent compared to the previous year, while the volume of scenic spot tickets booked increased by over eight times.

"Our restaurant was full almost every night during Lunar New Year's Eve to around Feb 17 and the Tomb Sweeping Day holiday, averaging about a hundred tables per night. Demand exceeded supply; often, the meat was sold out by around 8 pm, and we couldn't take any more customers," said Liu Fang, who handles the cash register at Xuewei Barbecue.

"We've considered increasing the supply of meat, but due to the challenge of finding reliable workers for skewering and grilling, we were concerned it might impact the quality of our food and service, affecting our reputation."

Xuewei is not the only barbecue outlet that has experienced this surge in customers.

Zhang Xueyan, owner of Zibo Big Chimney Grilled Fish & Barbecue, said several customers at her store during the Spring Festival were visitors from other cities. "Some came to visit relatives, some for tourism, and others specifically for barbecue. We were hitting around 30,000 yuan ($4,147) in daily revenue."

Zhang said that, at a preholiday 3.5-hour livestreaming session on short-video platform Douyin, she sold vouchers for in-house dining totaling 135,499 yuan, with nearly 10,000 people tuning in to the livestream.

"Many businesses, including mine, are expanding into online and takeaway services, searching for new growth points," she said.

"Even after Spring Festival, the number of daily diners has exceeded our expectations. The turnover rate has reached about two-thirds of the average during Spring Festival. The barbecue fever has picked up as the weather turns warm and more people enjoy outdoor activities," she added.

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