In central Shandong province, bordering the provincial capital Jinan to the west, you will find the city of Zibo (淄博). With its 4.7 million inhabitants, the old industrial and mining city was not exactly known as a trendy tourist destination. But that has all changed now. Everybody is talking about Zibo. For the upcoming May 1st holiday, hotel bookings in Zibo went up 800% compared to 2019, making it one of the most popular destinations in Shandong. The city has especially attracted online attention since March of 2023, with hashtags and hot searches peaking over the previous week. How did Zibo become such an online sensation, especially among China’s young travelers? The city’s hit status is widely discussed on Chinese social media apps these days. The emergence of such an overnight sensation is usually the result of various factors coming together at the right time, and this is also the case with the hype surrounding Zibo. Zibo Barbecue Its appealing barbecue culture is the first and main reason why Zibo is so hot nowadays. The city has been known for its barbecue restaurants for years, and creating a thriving open-air BBQ entertainment environment is also something the local authorities have invested in. They are publicizing Zibo as an ambassador city for “Friendly Shandong” (“好客山东”), the slogan the province uses to promote its image and boost tourism. The Zibo BBQ experience includes every table having its own small stove and it has that ‘do it yourself’ factor that hotpot-style dinners also have: when the skewers are served, the diners have to grill them themselves and then wrap them in thin pancakes, usually with spring onions. Zibo barbecue, images via social media. As one of its tourism promotion initiatives, Zibo has set up special tourist trains and dedicated BBQ bus routes to attract groups of tourists and boost local tourism after the pandemic years. Train ticket sales for May 1st already doubled that of Spring Festival, and tickets for the Beijing South-Zibo route sold out online within a minute the moment they became available. A Kind City in Difficult Times Another reason for Zibo’s sudden fame was suggested by some Chinese netizens (including the popular @地瓜熊老六), who said that Zibo played a special role during China’s zero-Covid policy. Zibo first went trending after a group of students from Jinan went there in March of this year. They came to Zibo because this was where they apparently were quarantined for a while during Covid, and they were well taken care of during their stay. According to one Zibo local, the students also celebrated their last night in Zibo at the time with a major BBQ feast. It is said that the students from Jinan wanted to go back to Zibo at this time and spend time there as a way to thank the city – not knowing they would start a viral sensation. Power of TikTok Douyin, the Chinese TikTok app, is also at the heart of Zibo’s recent success. As reported by 36kr, Zibo first became a hot topic on Douyin in early March, when the videos of the initial groups of students taking the high-speed train to Zibo to eat barbecue went viral. In April, Zibo again hit the hot trending lists on Douyin after one vlogger tried out ten different food stalls in the city and found that they all gave him the right portions or even gave him some extra food for free, reinforcing the idea that Zibo is a hospitable city. What followed was a snowball effect, from Douyin to Xiaohongshu to Weibo, with videos showing Zibo diners singing together while eating and having a good time spreading all over social media, only increasing the appeal of the city. “Zibo is just all over my timeline,” some commenters wrote on April 15. Crazy Travel after Covid According to the Chinese media platform DT Finance (DT财经), Zibo is a destination that especially resonates with Chinese students who have new wishes when it comes to traveling. Especially during the pandemic and China’s stringent Covid measures, many people have spent a lot of time indoors, quarantined, locked down, and/or unable to travel. Now that spring is here, people want to seize the moment and go out and enjoy their leisure time. This also means that instead of planning longer holidays well in advance, people book shorter, last-minute trips. Social media pics of Zibo trips. This is also one of the reasons why Zibo is especially popular among students from Shandong, who can hop on a train, reach their destination, and find themselves enjoying a beer and barbecue within a matter of hours. Stories from Zibo In light of the craze surrounding Zibo, there are various stories emerging from the thriving city that only add to its charm. For example, there are many videos showing the lively scenes around BBQ restaurants which went viral. One visitor needed to catch his train but still wanted a taste of Zibo BBQ, so one female shop owner hurried things along and made sure he got his Zibo dinner (#淄博老板娘为赶高铁小伙1v1烤串#). Then there was a 95-year-old veteran who visited the Zibo BBQ scene and his visit also made its rounds on social media (#95岁老兵体验淄博烧烤被围观#). Another trending hashtag is about Zibo’s music events (#淄博音乐节#), about some of the planned events and (rock) concerts taking place in Zibo in late April and early May. “Zibo’s cultural tourism office really understand how to do it,” various commenters wrote, praising how Zibo is not just known for its barbecue restaurants but also for its lively music scene. Then there are the videos showing an entire crowd singing ‘happy birthday’ because one person is celebrating their birthday. All in all, it’s clear that Zibo did something right. Especially in these times when so many cities across China are doing all they can to promote their town as a tourist destination (read all about it here), Zibo has proven that consistency is key to success: stay kind, be reliable, but most of all, keep the barbecue hot.
Source : Whats on Weibo