Zibo’s barbecue craze will not easily cool down amid China’s booming holiday economy

You may not believe this, but during the Spring Festival holidays, the first meal I craved upon returning to my hometown was not a homemade meal cooked by my parents, but the Zibo barbecue. Yes, my hometown is Zibo, located in East China’s Shandong Province. Just last year, the city was transformed from an old industrial third-tier city into a tourist hotspot due to its unique barbecue.

After stepping off the high-speed train and dropping off my luggage, my family and I headed to a nearby barbecue restaurant that was still open on the day before Spring Festival eve. We sat around a barbecue stove, indulging in the sizzling and flavorful pork skewers, beef skewers and lamb skewers, while engaging in casual conversation. It was in that moment that I truly felt the warmth of home and the familiar taste of my hometown. As we bade farewell and left the restaurant, the owner warmly greeted us, reminding us to visit again, as they do not close during the Spring Festival holidays.

This year, during Spring Festival, Zibo barbecue became even more popular, both in restaurants as well as a trending topic on Weibo. Throughout the Spring Festival holidays, Zibo attracted numerous tourists who came to experience the unique barbecue culture of the city. Their presence injected new vitality into the city, making it a vibrant destination. On February 15, toward the end of the Spring Festival holidays, my friends and I visited a barbecue restaurant in the downtown area of Zhangdian, the central urban district of Zibo city. As expected, we found ourselves waiting in line, with 230 numbers ahead of us – a clear indication of its popularity.

The year 2023 witnessed the rise in popularity of two cities: Zibo in the first half and Harbin in the second half. Harbin’s popularity was largely driven by its exceptional ice and snow resources, while Zibo primarily relied on its barbecue culture, which exudes a human touch and a lively atmosphere. The characteristic of Zibo barbecue is that diners can have their own small stove and grill the skewers themselves. This allows them to have extra fun, promoting friendship while strengthening family bonds.

Since March of last year, Zibo barbecue has gained popularity. Videos showcasing Zibo barbecue quickly spread on social media platforms such as Weibo, Douyin and Kuaishou. It started with groups of college students going to Zibo for barbecue, followed by popular internet celebrities. Eventually, the local government introduced a series of preferential policies related to cultural tourism. As a result, Zibo has become an internet sensation, and visiting Zibo for barbecue has become a new trend.

After experiencing strong momentum in April and May, there have been discussions about whether the popularity of Zibo has cooled down. However, in the face of China’s strong consumer and tourism enthusiasm, a city that has built and gained popularity and reputation will not easily fade away.

Whether it was the May Day holidays, the National Day holidays in 2023, or the Spring Festival holidays in 2024, China’s holiday consumption market all showed a strong surge. This can be attributed to the underlying potential for economic growth in the country. Every time a holiday rolls around, Zibo takes advantage of the holiday economy and experiences another wave of popularity.

During the recent Spring Festival holidays, in addition to Zibo’s barbecue restaurants, Badaju market, a local food market, was also bustling with people. Local media reported that tourists from all over the country once again flocked to the market, with a total of 230,500 visitors in the first four days of the Spring Festival holidays. When I drove past the market during my stay in Zibo, I noticed the parking lot filled with vehicles with license plates from other provinces and regions, and the market itself was teeming with people. I also saw tourists holding local specialty dishes and snacks, and their faces were filled with the joy of the festival.

Overall, the holiday consumption market in China has experienced significant growth, and Zibo’s rise in popularity as a result of its famous barbecue and the bustling Badaju market is a testament to the country’s economic potential.

According to a recent report by the China Tourism Academy, the domestic tourism market experienced significant restoration in 2023 and it is estimated that the number of domestic tourists will exceed 6 billion in 2024. The tourism consumption market in 2024 is expected to continue to rise, presenting a huge opportunity for emerging tourist hotspot like Zibo.

It can be confidently stated that with the strong consumption demand of the Chinese people and their curiosity for new tourism trends, Zibo’s barbecue craze will not easily cool down. Zibo barbecue frequently trends on Weibo during holidays, reflecting the booming holiday economy in China. The booming holiday economy not only drives the overall economy but also showcases people’s aspirations for a better life as they venture out. This reveals people’s confidence in future economic development and effectively refutes previous negative and doubtful views on the Chinese economy through vivid real-life scenes. The facts have repeatedly proven the strong resilience and potential of the Chinese economy.

The writer is an editor with the Global Times