Where’s the beef? BBQ tourism lights a fire in post-industrial niche

Hotel and flight ticket bookings on are booming for the upcoming May Day break with prices in some popular destinations up 25 percent.

Photo by Kuang Da

Photo by Kuang Da

By LI Rujia, YU Hao


Hotel and flight ticket bookings on online travel agencies (OTA) indicate a tourism boom in the upcoming May Day break from April 29 to May 3.

Orders on Trip.com have already surpassed those of 2019. Fliggy expected bookings this May Day to be ten times those of last year. On Meituan, searches for tourist destinations have tripled compared with 2019.

Not to be left behind, hotel prices have taken a vacation in the stratosphere. In some popular destinations, room rates are up 25 percent.

High times at the lake

XIAO Yaxing, who owns three hotels in central China’s Wuhan, said 80 percent of all her rooms were already booked, and she was quite happy to raise her price from 169 yuan (US$24) to 269 yuan. The high season is not so-called without good reason.

“I think it’s still a reasonable price. I don’t want to have customers complaining,” said Xiao.

YIN Biao has a hotel near Erhai, a picturesque lake in Dali in Southeast China’s Yunnan Province. He said about 70 percent of his rooms are booked at an average of 15 percent more than his standard rate.

As international tourism is taking time to recover, people have little choice but to explore destinations closers to home. But as flights, trains and hotel rooms become harder to find, travelers, intrepid or otherwise, are forced to explore new frontiers, tread less-beaten paths and look beyond a few basic keyword searches.

Beefed up bullet trains

Zibo, a faded industrial town in Shandong Province, is suddenly trending. In early March, a group of students took a high-speed train to the city to eat some barbecue and the video they made started a craze that is set to spread across the post-industrial landscape.

Zibo had invited students from Tsinghua and Peking universities to visit their city on a kind of all-you-can-eat challenge. Students only needed to pay for the train ticket and the local government would take care of everything else.

The video clocked more than 5 million views on Douyin. Two days later, in an entirely unrelated incident, the city government announced a barbecue festival during the upcoming May Day holiday.

Before the video, Zibo saw about 10,000 daily visitors. Post-video, the number rose to 18,000 and on April 1 reached 33,000.

Two barbecue-themed bullet trains transport passengers from Shandong's capital Jinan to Zibo. More than 120,000 tourists are expected to visit the city of just 4.7 million during the holiday. Hotel orders skyrocketed five times more than in 2019, and the government had to intervene to prevent price gouging.

Sizzling success

The burst of popularity and subsequent explosive prices led people in other once-prosperous industrial cities to question how they might bring in some visitors, and perhaps achieve a measure of sustainability through transformation.

Yibin, Jinzhou and Yanji – all once heavy industrial powerhouse, all now quiet old towns, all justly famed for their barbeque – have also seen a surge in hotel bookings.