By Meghan Hall
Glamping—a term with a slightly negative connotation that describes “glamorous camping”—is getting a makeover. While the word is stereotypically met with a bit of an eye roll (what’s the point of camping if you’re not actually camping?), AutoCamp is infusing glamping with a whole new meaning and forging ahead in a brand-new industry.
Founded in 2013 by Neil Dipaola and Ryan Miller, AutoCamp allows guests to go off the grid without actually having to rough it. Luxury accommodations and classic camping are blended to create an easy, no hassle getaway for seasoned and inexperienced campers alike.
AutoCamp’s inaugural location, AutoCamp Downtown, is located in Santa Barbara, California, and was created, as all of its locations are, in affiliation with Mesa Lane Partnership, a southern California real estate investment firm with offices in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. The sleek Airstream trailers are located just three miles from the Pacific coast and are equipped with spa-grade bathrobes, walk-in showers and air conditioning.
We are really pioneering a new sector in outdoor hospitality
Similar to the property in Santa Barbara, the company’s Northern California location is just 90 miles from San Francisco in Guerneville, California. AutoCamp Russian River, as it’s called, opened in 2016, hosts 24 Airstreams and 10 luxury canvas tents equipped with Queen-sized Caspar mattresses, Wi-Fi, decks and fire pits. Russian River’s sleek mid-century styled clubhouse designed by Anacapa Architecture provides fresh coffee and orange juice each morning.
AutoCamp’s prices vary based on lodging type. Stationary tents at AutoCamp Russian River start at $190 per night and can accommodate two people. Airstream trailers at both locations cost about $290 per night and can comfortably fit up to two adults and two children.
The company has been pleased with the initial reception of each location, especially as the campsites were developed as a test project in what the company deemed an underappreciated market niche. “We are really pioneering a new sector in outdoor hospitality,” says Ryan Miller, AutoCamp’s co-founder and chief marketing officer.
In an era where consumers are frequently looking for the most “instagrammable moment,” according to Miller, businesses are searching for ways to reinvent their product and not just sell material goods, but experiences as well.
AutoCamp attempts to provide a new and interesting offering by layering the luxury experience with the great outdoors. The campsites provide beautiful scenery, free bikes and close proximity to restaurants, wineries and outdoor activities fit for a variety of ages, while the Airstreams couple the traditional comforts of a hotel setting that offers easy access to outdoor explorations.
“AutoCamp is ideal for people that may have never camped before or need an easy way to get outdoors,” says Sonia Greenlee, AutoCamp’s new senior vice president and director of design and construction.
The company has been actively pursuing a customer base that targets both typical vacationers as well as corporate guests. AutoCamp Downtown is neatly tucked into Santa Barbara’s urban center, while AutoCamp Russian River is only a few hours’ drive from major cities in the San Francisco Bay Area. This makes the sites accessible to families, Millennials and retirees alike.
According to Greenlee and Miller, AutoCamp has also drawn guests from all over the world who come to visit after staying in major cities like San Francisco or Los Angeles.
Companies frequently buyout AutoCamp sites for corporate retreats, using the campsite as an alternative to traditional accommodations. Of their corporate guests, Greenlee says, “They’re innovators too, so they appreciate something outside the typical conference and hotel box.”
The ability to offer a contemporary and creative space to top-tier businesses was something that both Miller and Greenlee were particularly proud of accomplishing. “Having typically come from branded assets, hotels are trying to compete with outside offerings and options,” says Greenlee. “They are having a hard time distinguishing themselves.”
Large brand-name hotels are struggling to rise above changes in consumer attitudes, and smaller, single-site glamping businesses have no intentions or ability to expand. AutoCamp, on the other hand, sits neatly between the well-established hotel industry and the disconnected campground market and has the ability to scale and position its brand across disparate geographies.
With two successful sites now established, AutoCamp has several projects in the pipeline and is looking to scale its glamping product and produce a significant rollout. While future sites have not yet been officially announced, Greenlee and Miller did confirm that the new projects would be in California and expand upon AutoCamp’s vision of sustainable hospitality.
In choosing locations, AutoCamp selects sites that are not only scenic and compelling but also have the potential to provide amazing outdoor experiences. Greenlee mentions that AutoCamp does not develop new sites, but rather renovates pre-existing ones, which supports both its sustainability and cost-conscious missions. Much of AutoCamp’s basic setup uses modular, pre-fabricated construction in order to eliminate extra waste.
Recycling is available on-site and AutoCamp is currently looking into ways to utilize greywater as another initiative to minimize each site’s environmental footprint.
“Fundamentally what AutoCamp seeks to do is inspire environmentalism in our guests,” says Miller. “We want people to mindfully experience the outdoors and bring that experience home.”
The close proximity to the outdoors blended with top-tier hospitality makes AutoCamp a good choice between camping and luxury vacationing. AutoCamp’s niche is trying to pave the way for an innovative market that neither big-name hotels nor other camping sites have touched, and according to its leadership, the company is on the right path to achieving those goals.