SAN FRANCISCO—As consumer demand shifts toward a hospitality model that values experiences over things, and authenticity above all else, outdoor lodging brand AutoCamp has received a capital commitment of $115 million from Whitman Peterson, a real estate private equity company, to realize exactly that vision.
AutoCamp is expected to use the institutional financing to acquire and redevelop properties for its continued portfolio expansion. As part of the transaction, Whitman Peterson also invested in the AutoCamp operating company. RobertDouglas, a real estate investment banking firm, advised the hospitality company on the deal.
“AutoCamp retained RobertDouglas early in 2018 to begin exploring structural alternatives to significantly accelerate the growth of the business,” said Robert Stiles, principal and managing director of RobertDouglas. “Ultimately, it was decided to utilize an operating company and property company structure as a framework for working with a capital/investment partner on the real estate side.”
Evaluating different structural and capital solutions to scale AutoCamp took three to six months. Then, RobertDouglas worked with AutoCamp for more than 30 days to select the ideal partner.
“In 25 years, my partners and I have never experienced institutional investor interest as strong and immediate as it was for the opportunity to partner with AutoCamp,” he said. “I believe the appeal of the concept and the highly profitable economic model resonated with investors.”
After examining potential institutional investors for its client, RobertDouglas advised AutoCamp to partner with Whitman Peterson.
“While there where many strong partner candidates, Whitman Peterson stood out as a California-based, experienced hospitality platform investor with longer term capital and a longer-term view on partnerships,” Stiles said.
Neil Dipaola, CEO of AutoCamp, couldn’t have agreed more: “We found Whitman Peterson to be the perfect strategic partner for AutoCamp. With vast experience in real estate and hospitality, the team will help us rapidly execute on our plan to identify and build out a substantial number of properties in the coming years.”
“Whitman Peterson has the capacity to invest beyond this first commitment of capital and will remain the preferential partner in growing the business,” Stiles said. “Ultimately, AutoCamp and Whitman Peterson will look to grow the platform beyond the U.S. Furthermore, the platform will also access capital for strategic acquisitions of alternative outdoor hospitality platforms and concepts as the industry consolidates in the coming years.”
AutoCamp plans to use Whitman Peterson’s capital to develop more than $500 million in projects (the outdoor lodging company focuses its efforts on campgrounds and RV parks in premier destinations), one of which is already in the works—AutoCamp Yosemite, which, slated to open in Q1 2019, will include 105 luxury Airstreams and tents.
“AutoCamp Yosemite will allow guests to explore the natural wonders of one of California’s most magical national parks from the comfort of luxurious, custom-designed Airstreams nestled in the foothills of the Sierra mountains and centered around a mid-century modern design clubhouse and swimming pool,” Dipaola said. “The Yosemite location is the largest and most secluded AutoCamp to date. We’ve thoughtfully reimagined the Yosemite experience in every detail of this project and are counting down the days until opening.”
AutoCamp’s current portfolio includes properties in California’s Santa Barbara and Sonoma County (Russian River). “Russian River is an ideal destination to explore the Sonoma Wine Country, and the property features a gorgeous architectural clubhouse pavilion at the center of the property,” Dipaola said.
Instead of just offering places to stay, AutoCamp aims to provide its guests with elevated outdoor lodging experiences. “It’s a memorable, photogenic, easy and unique experience in nature,” Dipaola said. “Many guests have always dreamed of spending a night in an Airstream, and we make that possible in a comfortable, well-appointed way. Oftentimes, guests arrive with a certain curiosity and excitement about AutoCamp, but leave complete brand ambassadors.”
The company’s view on lodging experiences has been on point with the lodging industry at large.
“Ultimately, it’s about the evolution of the customer—a shift away from acquiring things to acquiring experiences,” he said. “Consumers have been increasingly shifting leisure dollars from room expenditure to expenditure on activities and experiences. AutoCamp delivers an outdoor hospitality experience that delights guests with great design and welcoming hospitality.”
Part of its overall expansion strategy, AutoCamp expects to acquire and launch new AutoCamp facilities across the country. “With expectations to develop four to five properties on average per year, this initial commitment of capital should last for two to three years before a second tranche is made available,” Stiles said.
“One of the unique parts of AutoCamp is its appeal for a range of guests,” Dipaola said. “Our guests are mostly coming from major metropolitan areas adjacent to our properties—specifically, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area. Our guests range from young professionals and young families, to active retirees and corporate groups. We have a strong base of corporate retreat customers who find our clubhouses and accommodations to be a unique and inspired way of conducting an off-site meeting.”
The outdoor lodging brand in 2019 is continuing to “deliver transformational guest experiences while really executing on the growth pipeline nationally with Whitman Peterson,” Dipaola said.
“We have a robust pipeline of new locations around the country, but remain careful to only announce as the projects have been fully acquired and are in the launching mode,” he said. “Beyond AutoCamp Yosemite, our next project will be announced shortly—an inspiring coastal location on the East Coast.
“The balance of the pipeline will reveal properties near national and state parks and treasured recreational areas,” he said. HB