AutoCamp opens new paths – The Santa Barbara Independent
One of the most interesting independent brands to emerge in the national hospitality industry over the past decade started here in Santa Barbara as a “happy accident”. AutocampFounder and CEO of, Neil Dipaola, said that when they bought a small urban RV park on De la Vina Street in 2012, they hoped to “create a new paradigm for affordable housing.” Although the experiment did not achieve this specific goal, it was a resounding success in other respects and set the company on an exciting and unexpected path. Today, AutoCamp has grown into a thriving boutique chain of outdoor accommodation properties with a growing national footprint.
When I recently spoke to Dipaola to find out more about what’s on the horizon for the company, the conversation started with their hometown story. It was just around the time when the small house trend was taking off. Dipaola and her partners believed that, if done right, the renovated mobile homes could appeal to young professionals and provide a solution to the shortage of affordable housing in the community. After purchasing the De la Vina property, they hired a local architect, Matthew Hofmann, to renovate the Airstream trailers that would occupy the vacant locations. Although intended for long-term renters, locals passing by became curious and asked to book stays for their visiting relatives and friends. “Being the entrepreneurs that we were, we said ‘of course’,” recalls Dipaola. “We had other people who wanted to stay on vacation because they had always wanted to see what the interior of an Airstream looked like.”
Buzz grew up quickly and organically. It was the beginning of Airbnb and many Americans were discovering the joys of vacation rental for the first time. “Our six Airstreams on De la Vina have become very popular and we have created a website,” said Dipaola. “Before realizing it, we were interviewing the Los Angeles Times and Sunset Magazine, and I got all this press on our little Airstream miniature hotel on De la Vina.
One day, he got a call from the CEO of Airstream, who wanted to work with them, saying they hadn’t had so much press in 50 years. “Fast forward a few years, and Airstream is a partner and investor in the business,” said Dipaola. AutoCamp is Airstream’s exclusive accommodation and hotel partner and they have worked closely to refine the AutoCamp customer experience. “We really created the ultimate Airstream hotel module,” Dipaola said of their custom manufacturing arrangement. “We call it the Signature Airstream Suite. It really is everything you could want in a hotel room – it looks more like a St. Regis hotel room than any type of motorhome you’ve probably seen.
In late spring, I experienced the luxury of a Premium Airstream Suite at AutoCamp Yosemite. From the comfy queen-size bed, earthy Ursa Major bath products and spacious rainshower with treetop views to the well-equipped kitchenette and private patio with a fireplace, it was glamping at its best. .
Each property is anchored in a Mid-Century Modern style clubhouse with comfortable common interior spaces and inviting outdoor gathering spots. In Yosemite, amenities included a cafe, pool, and general store stocked with gourmet foods (their s’mores kits are a must-have for marshmallows alone!), Outdoor living accessories, and keepsakes. Free coffee and breakfast were also served in the clubhouse, which I enjoyed upon returning from my very early and very cold morning commute to watch the breathtaking sunrise over Yosemite Valley from the view of the tunnel.
In addition to the Yosemite property, which is located about an hour outside of the national park and very close to Mariposa, AutoCamp has locations in the wine town of Sonoma in Guerneville on the Russian River (their first real flagship). and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, which opened in early 2021. Joshua Tree debuted in December, and 2022 will see sites opening in the Catskills just outside of Woodstock, New York, as well as the park. Zion National in Utah.
Dipaola said they have 15 other new properties in the works. “You’re going to see a lot more AutoCamp locations advertised here in the relatively short future across the country. They’re very deliberate and strategic when it comes to expansion, and aim to have locations within a half-day’s drive of the top 25 metropolitan areas in the United States.
He also shared that 30 to 40 acres is the optimal amount of land needed to create what has become the quintessential AutoCamp experience. This is part of the reason why the “prototype” on De la Vina was eventually brought down to affordable housing. They would have needed more space and didn’t want to move any of the original tenants – they have since sold the property completely. That said, when I asked Dipaola if he had a dream destination that was not currently in the works, he didn’t hesitate to say: “open a specially designed AutoCamp in Santa Barbara!” ”
It makes sense that a group of environmentally conscious individuals based in Santa Barbara created such a successful outdoor lifestyle brand. The AutoCamp team’s mission is to make the outdoors more accessible to people, whether they are novices or experienced adventurers, in a sustainable way. “AutoCamp is really a way to share our passion for the outdoors with people in a simple, easy and accessible way,” said Dipaola. “Before AutoCamp, we were trying to build zero net green housing to protect the environment, relieve natural areas, and conserve land for wildlife. He clarified, “While we reluctantly fell into hospitality, the passion for the outdoors has not changed. In fact, he got stronger.
Their experiential product has resonated with travelers since day one, and the pandemic has sparked an explosion in demand for accommodations in nature and large spaces that respect social distancing. It is therefore quite a coincidence that AutoCamp’s expansion plans include the development of a portfolio of brands, starting with the introduction of a range of more affordable outdoor accommodation. “We’re interested in exploring low-cost, truly accessible outdoor experiences and seeing how we can make the outdoors more inclusive, to remove some of the barriers people might face: not having the right equipment, not to have the right experience, not to be inclined to be outside, ”explained Dipaola. “We want everyone to feel welcome and to do it in a way that instills a lot of respect and respect for the environment,” he added. “I hope all of our guests return home with memories and experiences that lead them to be better stewards of the environment and return to one of our other properties so they can have a different experience in a different environment and develop a love for life. the outdoors. “
It strikes me as an admirable and timely assignment, and I look forward to championing their continued success and innovative hospitality best practices in the years to come. In the meantime, I think it’s time to plan my next trip to the desert. AutoCamp Joshua Tree is already taking reservations.
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