HANGZHOU, Jan. 1 (Xinhua) -- The sun finally emerged from the horizon off the coast near Shitang Township in east China's Zhejiang Province, greeting the Chinese mainland on the first day of the new year.
Shitang became an instant hit 20 years ago when the mainland's first ray of sunshine in the new millennium was officially announced to hit the town.
Before then, Shitang was a tiny and little-known fishing town, with only stone houses facing the East China Sea having stood through the wind and rain for thousands of years.
The town's overnight fame brought with it enormous business opportunities.
In 1999, the city of Wenling, which administers the town, only received 556,000 domestic and foreign tourists with a revenue of just 334 million yuan (47.8 million U.S. dollars).
But in 2000, thanks to the sun, Wenling received 1.03 million tourists.
Since then, the sunshine economy has become a development engine of Wenling's tourism. From 2001 to 2018, the number of tourists to Wenling continued to grow at an average annual rate of over 20 percent.
In 2018, it received 18.9 million tourists with total tourism revenue rising to 20.76 billion yuan.
The once trash-filled beach has been transformed into a spotless stretch ideal for sun viewing, with trails stretching along the sea and recreational facilities everywhere.
Shitang was once known as a "vacant village" as fishermen usually stayed out at sea for several months on end, leaving behind an unattended village.
However, incoming tourists have brought tremendous changes as the local government has increased investment and strengthened management.
Stone houses decorated with carved granite windows have been erected, and the clean bay and clear sea fascinate tourists.
Chen Bin, 46, was among the first arrivals to strike gold. He visited Shitang in 2014, and decided to stay by operating a homestay.
There were 19 homestays as of 2017, and the number rose to 39 within just one year.
Yang Biao, 56, used to be a fisherman like his father and grandfather. But he gave up his fishing boat and started a hospitality business in 2016.
"Fishing is dangerous and tough. Some of my neighbors even lost their lives. I felt bad and wanted a safe, stable life," he said. "I used to live on the untamed sea. Now I rely on the sunshine."
All of his rooms for the last day of 2019 and the upcoming Chinese New Year have been booked out. During the peak season from July to September, the occupancy rate of his homestay is around 70 percent.
The local seafood industry has also been warmed by the sunshine.
Zheng Jie, 30, grew up in a fishing family on an island. Thanks to the rising popularity of Shitang and its delicious seafood, she started her e-commerce business in 2017.
"When tourists come to enjoy the sunshine, they usually take some local seafood with them upon leaving. And some of them become my regular customers and place orders on WeChat," she said.
Next, she plans to establish a cooperative to bring in more fishermen to the business.