JINAN, Aug. 16 (Xinhua) -- It's lunch time. The villagers in Zhonghaoyu Village of Zibo, east China's Shandong Province, gather in the public canteen to enjoy free meals.
Starting this June, the village opened a public canteen to help local villagers save time and focus on their tourism businesses.
Once a poor mountainous village, Zhonghaoyu was plagued by a lack of arable land resources, with the average per capita annual income around just 2,000 yuan (290 U. S. dollars) a dozen years ago.
In order to find a way to wealth, the village, with beautiful natural scenery, turned its eyes to tourism. In 2007, a tourism company was established by local authorities, and 37 households took the lead to become shareholders.
In 2013, all houses, forest and land in the village was incorporated into the company, and every one in the village became a shareholder.
More than 400 houses were renovated. Specialty snacks and tourist attractions such as drifting boats were created to develop tourism. Last year the village welcomed 780,000 tourists.
Young people who left their hometown for job opportunities in the cities years ago are now coming back to join the company. Currently over 20 college graduates work in the village.
In 2017, the village's tourism income exceeded 28 million yuan, and the average per capita annual income reached 38,000 yuan.
"It was unimaginable years ago that people as old as me could make so much money," said villager Zhang Yedong. Once a farmer barely making ends meet, Zhang and his wife now run a snack bar selling pancakes.
Zhang Yefen opened an eatery to sell dumplings, and also runs a family hostel. "A total of four people in my home are working now, and we made over 300,000 yuan in total last year," she said.
As tourism grows, many villagers are too busy to cook three meals a day. Thus, the free canteen was born.
Zhao Dongqiang, village Party chief, estimates that the village spends 2.8 million yuan every year to offer meals for the 360 villagers.
"It's so convenient to eat in the canteen, as we don't need to cook or wash the dishes," Zhang Yedong said. "There is a plenty of dishes for every meal, which is impossible if you eat at home."
Zhao Dongqiang said the village was exploring ways to further develop its tourism industry. During the past few years, the company has sent several employees abroad to gain inspiration about tourism development.
In China, tourism has become a new channel of revenue for rural residents. According to official figures, the country's rural areas generated tourist spending of over 1.4 trillion yuan last year.