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The backstory: As China’s COVID policies continue to ease, traveling within the country has skyrocketed. In fact, according to China’s top online travel agency, Trip.com, this May Day holiday, aka Labor Day, has seen bookings for domestic hotels and air travel from Saturday to Wednesday exceeding pre-COVID levels. Mind you, this is the nation’s first extended break since the country got rid of its COVID restrictions, so you can only imagine the excitement.
The development: While the major city hubs like Beijing, Guangzhou and Chengdu were some of the most popular tourist destinations, the crowds this holiday has drawn has even taken locals in the world’s second-most populous country aback. For example, Shanghai Railway saw its busiest day on April 29, with around 651,000 passengers being transported in one day, operating nearly an extra 390 trains to deal with the load. In fact, China State Railway Group has said that between April 27 and May 4, the nation’s railway is expected to be carrying 120 million people, which is a 20% increase from the same period in 2019.
But it’s not just the big cities seeing this foot traffic left, right and center – many are also leaving the beaten paths to visit less explored cities like Zibo. Zibo is in the center of the Shandong province, and when train tickets to the city went on sale in early April, the Beijing to Zibo route sold out in under 60 seconds. Through good reviews and social media, the country’s citizens, specifically budget-concerned zoomers, caught on that it’s a city where you can really get bang for your buck, like getting 35 meat skewers for US$10. It’s become the hottest destination in the country, with the highest hotel occupancy rates in the nation this Golden Week, according to booking app Meituan. Local authorities are actually telling people to avoid it during this period now.
“Most consumers are very surprised how sincere and honest the Zibo businesspeople are, as they didn’t raise prices even when tourist traffic surged so significantly. It’s so common for popular tourist cities to rip people off,” said Dave Xie, a Shanghai-based principal at consultancy Oliver Wyman.
"I believe there will be two-way exchanges between young students in our city, and Zibo will have a brighter future,” said Ma Xiaolei, Party secretary of Zibo, to state media Global Times.
"A barbecue restaurant owner I know told me to come back on Monday so as to leave the weekends to out-of-town visitors. Another restaurant owner told me that they had run out of meat. I've been eating barbecue for over 20 years, and this is the first time I've heard something like that," said a Zibo city native to chinanews.com after failing to get a seat at four barbeque restaurants.