Businesses Go Camping at Catskills Retreats Upscale Auto Camp in Saugerties – Rockland County Business Journal

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Communion in nature all year round is a strategic post-pandemic option for corporate gatherings in tents, small houses and airflows

By Tina Traster

The pandemic mostly looks like it’s in the rearview mirror. Companies have found a way to go out again; network, communicate, reconnect. And for some, dating literally means dating.

Take Google Pixel for example, which was looking for a venue to host its recent Camp Pixel Summit. Rather than book a boring hotel with cookie-cutter rooms, functional food, and mind-boggling conference rooms, the company opted for AutoCamp Catskills, a hip and versatile “campground” that opened in June on 37 acres in the state of Saugerties ,

Camping, yes, but we’re talking a collection of high-end glamping tents, gleaming luxury Airstreams, and tiny luxury suites scattered around a stunning building soaring in common areas with vaulted ceilings and large glass windows that evoke the architectural philosophy of Frank Lloyd Wright to merge the inside and the outside.

Ulster County, about an hour from Rockland, is a hotbed of exciting hospitality offerings. The recently opened Wildflower Farms, an Auberge Resort in Gardener, is a breathtaking retreat with $1,000 overnight cabins scattered among nature’s bounty. From Mohonk Mountain House, an imposing Victorian mansion, to a new generation of boutique hotels in Kingston and Saugerties, our northern neighbor is brimming with hospitality offerings that mix it up for business retreats. A former Kingston brick factory has been converted into a glamping site.

autocamp3During the three-day #TeamPixel retreat, its employees lit bonfires, hiked along Esopus Creek, practiced archery, took forest baths. A great way to get to know your workmates, bond, do team building. An experience probably to remember, not to mention Instagrammed.

Guests hole up in AutoCamp’s 65 converted Airstream trailers, 10 stylish tiny cabins, and 10 “base camps” (one Airstream plus one luxury tent). The centerpiece is the clubhouse, where there are games, craft cocktails, and morning meditation. At night, guests gather around the hearths. Saugerties is a stone’s throw from the campsite.

For all the fun and games, the campground is business ready with wifi and access to screens, even outdoors. For meetings there are open space rooms with huge glass walls and large doors that allow people to connect directly with the outside.

“There are a lot of transactional hotels where guests check in and out, don’t talk to anyone or make connections,” said AutoCamp manager Evan Pravda. “This is not the kind of experience guests have here. People communicate with nature. There is the shared Club House and fire pits. It’s an experience and for many it may even be their first time camping. COVID has really taken people out.

AutoCamp, which is entering its first season, is winter-friendly and designed to be a year-round destination. The concept is the brainchild of CEO and founder Neil Dipaola, who established the first location in Santa Barbara, California in 2016. It started as a basic Airstream rental concept, but viral advertising blew up the property, which sold out for the next 52 weekends.

Fast company called AutoCamp “the ultimate summer camp for adults” and named Dipaola one of the most creative people in 2019, while Airstream maker Thor Industries partnered with AutoCamp, creating the world’s first Airstream hotel chain. There are campgrounds on Cape Cod, Yosemite, Zion, Joshua Tree and Russian River in California and three more are available in Sequoia, Asheville, North Carolina and Hill Country, Texas.

“The demand for outdoor hospitality grows exponentially every year,” Pravda said. “It’s really bringing people back to what the soul of hospitality is.”

In 2021, the global glamping market was worth $2.3 billion and is projected to grow at an annual rate of 10.9% over the next eight years and reach $5.94 billion by 2030.

There is something romantic about camping: nights under the starry sky, bonfires with strummed guitars and ghost stories. But not everyone can pitch a tent or tow an RV. AutoCamp encapsulates the experience and makes it palatable for the camping curious, as well as businesses that want to “go camping” with the luxury of haute design, ready-to-roast s’mores, and sourced Hudson Valley amenities local.

AutoCamp, which hopes to inspire companies to reinvent corporate meetings and retreats, has attracted Fortune 100 companies like Google and Netflix. But it’s also a good setup for small businesses and nonprofits that want to meet and bond without breaking the bank.

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