One of the year’s biggest geopolitical moments has become a rare marketing opportunity for an upscale Bay Area garden.
Filoli, a historic estate with 16 acres of gardens 25 miles south of San Francisco, was selected to host a bilateral “working lunch” talk between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping during last month’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the highly watched Nov. 15 meeting had a huge impact on Filoli. This San Mateo County country house, which had a relatively low profile outside the Bay Area, became a hot topic overnight, not just in American media but in the Chinese-speaking world as well.
“That first day that we reopened [after the Biden-Xi meeting], three large tour buses of Chinese tourists showed up,” Dani Hielscher, Filoli’s director of marketing, told The Standard. “It has given us a huge catalyst for visibility.”
Hielscher said the estate has long reached out to the local Chinese community through ads and a Chinese-translated webpage. Roughly one-third of visitors are people of Asian descent.
But after the meeting, Hielscher said, Filoli saw an increase in interest from Chinese citizens and the domestic Chinese American community alike. Her team has boosted its Chinese-language outreach, prominently featuring language about the Biden-Xi meeting.
“We're reaching globally to a Chinese-speaking audience,” she said, “and we're figuring out what they want to hear.”
For example, following Biden and Xi’s footsteps in the garden may become a major selling point, according to Hielscher, and Filoli is launching a bilingual self-guided tour for that purpose. Xi’s Chinese signature in the guest book is also displayed in the main house for Chinese tourists to view.
Interestingly, some older-generation Chinese may also find Filoli familiar—at least, in aerial photographs. One of the first prime-time American shows to be broadcast nationally in China was the 1980s soap opera Dynasty, or 豪门恩怨 in Chinese, which featured the Filoli main house in its opening credits.
But Filoli’s Chinese name could be confusing. In the local Chinese community, Filoli’s Chinese name has long been 費羅莉, a phonetic transliteration of the English name. But in China’s state media, journalists use 斐洛里, a transliterated name with similar pronunciation but different characters.
A Local Chef and Booster
Sitting on the board of Filoli is one celebrity chef and local Chinese American icon who’s actively promoting the garden in the Asian community: Martin Yan.
Yan told the Standard that he lives only eight minutes away from Filoli and visiting the grounds has become his routine. So when he was asked to serve on the board, he took the offer without hesitation.
“I always take my friends and family to the garden,” said Yan. “It’s such a tranquil, peaceful, meticulously maintained place.”
Yan has hosted multiple local culinary TV shows, and once, he even featured a visit to Filoli, where he helped rebuild the estate's vegetable garden and brought in more Asian plants. It was the perfect place for two powerful global leaders to meet and cool geopolitical tensions, he added.
Yan emphasized that the garden has many Asian art items in it. Another selling point for Chinese tourists is that a longtime Chinese chef, Kee Low, worked there for a long-ago owner's family.
But for Hielscher and her team, the more imminent task is how to collaborate with Chinese tour groups who want to follow in world leaders’ footsteps.
“They want to see exactly where President Xi and President Biden stood, taking photos,” Hielscher added, “and hear a little bit about the meeting room they were in.”