Bringing Luxury Hospitality to the Great Outdoors with AutoCamp Joshua Tree

Now that the lockdowns and restrictions brought on by the initial wave of the COVID-19 pandemic have eased, many people find themselves looking for safe getaways. In many cases, post-pandemic travelers want nearby destinations that offer access to lots of fresh air — beaches, National and State parks — while still providing some level of the luxury accommodations to which they are accustomed.

AutoCamp Joshua Tree is one such spot. The so-called Glamping destination, luxury connected to the outdoors, exudes intimacy, privacy and community. Hospitality Design magazine named Joshua Tree AutoCamp as a 2022 Gold Key Finalist for Specialty Design, recognizing the project’s influential and innovative design, inside and out.

Located just outside Joshua Tree National Park, about a two-hour drive from Los Angeles, the 25-acre resort features modernized vintage Airstream trailers. Easily recognizable by their round shape and polished aluminum coat, the American-designed campers have regained the popularity they once enjoyed in a bygone era.

“An Airstream has the nostalgic feeling of a rose-tinted moment when life was good, back in the day,” said Ben Martin, HKS Economics Practice Director, Advisory. “You’re going back to the 60s and the 70s.”

But HKS-designed AutoCamp presents a more modern advantage as well — sustainability. The luxury campsite aligns with the firm’s goal to be a leader in sustainability and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG).

“It’s a light touch on the environment in terms of development, which means that it is more acceptable in the sense of natural environment,” Martin said.

Inside these Airstream suites are a fully functioning kitchenette, queen bed and a modern bathroom equipped with a walk-in rain shower. Along with a flatscreen television, AutoCamp provides each guest with a private patio and their own fire pit.

During the project’s development, standalone buildings were brought on the back of trucks to be easily towed away if needed, using structures made from plug-ins rather than foundations. Around the site, low-use water, native plantings, xeriscaping, subtle rock formations and an on-site water treatment system is integrated within to dramatically reduce the property’s environmental impact as well.

“Anything we can do to reduce the impact on nature and the site that we’re building on is always valuable,” said Michael Strohmer, HKS Regional Practice Director, Hospitality.

‘A Sense of Nostalgia’

AutoCamp Joshua Tree is designed to provide guests with the option to stay private and intimate or be around a community while enjoying the fresh air of the great outdoors.

“Intimate moments and privacy are encouraged at the Airstream campsites, but guests can also opt for shared spaces,” said Mark O’Dell, a Principal and Architect at HKS. Guests can participate in activities such as “fireside chats, movie nights under the stars, yoga and sound healing sessions outdoors,” he added.

The extreme climate and aestheticism of Joshua Tree, with its Joshua trees and mountain ranges, set the stage for its design.

The HKS design team used elements of passive design to give each guest a deeper connection with the environment. For example, the building’s placement helps shelter guests from the winter winds while taking advantage of the summer breezes, utilizing shading elements on all facades.

In addition, the design of the 55-key boutique resort focused on creating memories for visitors while staying grounded in nature. The architecture nods to the eclectic character of the town where it is located, using materials meant to weather in place and improve with age as they blend into the natural landscape.

“The intentional use of raw and native materials provides texture and rustication, bringing a sense of nostalgia to the camping experience,” O’Dell said.

Investing in Experience-Focused Travel for Wellness

HKS research shows that most people spend approximately 80-90% of their time indoors, yet access to nature is known to help relieve stress and mental fatigue, support focus and encourage overall mental well-being.

“When we get ourselves out of or away from nature, we somewhat unsurprisingly feel increasingly stressed,” Martin said.

Future Market Insights, a market research organization, shows a major increased interest in health, wellness and well-being-oriented hotels, brands and destinations. Their research indicates that the business and leisure tourism industry is projected to reach $497.5 billion in valuation in 2022.

And according to Martin, Glamping has a market projected annual growth of 12 percent, surpassing $5 billion by 2025.

AutoCamp Joshua Tree represents perhaps the best of both worlds, promoting luxury guest experiences with an indoor-outdoor design.

“COVID has made us more aware of our environment and having that experience where you can be indoors or outdoors is important,” Strohmer said. “The landscape and the outdoor amenities are just as important as the guest rooms, the restaurants and everything else.”