Intro- 00:00:02: Welcome to the Hotel Moment Podcast, presented by Revinate, the podcast where we talk to leaders in the hospitality industry. If you’re looking for trends, perspectives, and stories from leaders in travel and hospitality, you’re in the right place.
Karen – 00:00:21: Hello and welcome everyone to the Hotel Moment Podcast. I am your host, Karen Stephens, the Chief Revenue Officer of Revinate. And today I am joined by Vinny Cuneo, who is the Vice President of Sales and Revenue Strategy at AutoCamp. Welcome Vinny.
Vinny – 00:00:36: Thanks for having me, Karen. Great to see you.
Karen – 00:00:39: Great to see you, and I think I pronounced your name wrong even after asking. Cuneo!
Vinny – 00:00:43: Cuneo, you got it, it’s close enough.
Karen – 00:00:44: All right, there we go. Awesome, cool. So I’m so glad to have you on the podcast. So, Vinny runs AutoCamp, which is one of our favorite customers here at Revinate. It is such a unique way to spend a vacation. So do you wanna just give us the super high level, for those who aren’t familiar, what AutoCamp is and what the sweet spot of the experience is?
Vinny – 00:01:04: Yeah, absolutely. So picture a boutique hotel out in the middle of the woods that, as opposed to being a vertical building, we kind of smashed down horizontally and all of those rooms are individual custom designed Airstreams that you can’t find anywhere else but with us. We built an amazing clubhouse that has kind of like a mid-century modern design motif to it. That’s where you check in, that’s where you can hang out. We’ve got food and beverage there, we’ve got retail there. And then you’re walking through the woods out to your Airstream suite and all these Airstreams like I mentioned, custom designed just for AutoCamp, so they’re kind of chopped up into thirds. A third is the bedroom with a queen bed. I always tell everybody that I’ve been working in hotels for 17 years and we have the most comfortable beds in the world. The other third is a living space to kind of hang out and kick it. It’s also got like a little pull out sleeper as well for kids or for extra friends. And then the bathrooms are really where we kind of separate ourselves from traditional glamping if you want to say that. These are full spa bathrooms, tile showers, residential toilets. It’s unbelievable. So for those that have not experienced it, we want everyone to come check it out and hop on our Instagram or check out our website to see some pictures of what we do.
Karen – 00:02:13: Absolutely, you know, and I have had the pleasure of staying at Yosemite and I can attest it is like being in a boutique hotel and then you walk outside you’re like, oh. I’m steps away from a national park, there’s a pool, so it’s really a fantastic experience. So our topic today, we’re gonna talk about how do you thrive in multiple industries? So how do you keep up with trends and tap into guest preferences, and of course, maximize revenue? So, you know, AutoCamp kind of straddles hospitality and glamping, and it’s a cool blend of the two. But before we get into that, I have five questions that I ask all of my guests. So if you’ll indulge me, I’m gonna ask you a couple now.
Vinny – 00:02:50: Alright, fire away.
Karen – 00:02:52: Okay, so the first one, when did you first start working in the hospitality industry and do you remember your first day on the job?
Vinny – 00:03:00: I don’t know if I remember my first day. My first job in a hotel was after I graduated college working valet at Sunriver Resort in Sunriver, Oregon, which my parents were super excited about, you know, after four years of them paying for college, making $9 an hour parking cars. I don’t really remember my first day, but I remember a lot of moments from that position and like watching everybody walk in and out of the property. One being stricken by the families arriving and how much excitement and how much fun they had, but also some of the leaders of that property, the way they carried themselves, the way they presented themselves, you know, taking the time to stop and talk to the valet attendants. That was what kind of first got me, you know, to drink the Kool-Aid of working in hotels and resorts, just kind of seeing that connection from the highest levels down to the bottom levels and making sure that everybody kind of had a smile on their face.
Karen – 00:03:47: That’s great. I love that. A lot of guests on the podcast have started really at the ground floor, so to speak, in hotels, so that’s very cool. Second question for you, what has been the most uplifting moment so far in your career?
Vinny – 00:04:01: Probably during the darkest days of COVID. In 2020, we were still in a very small startup mode, and COVID certainly made us even smaller as we had to close all of our properties. So kind of the ebb and flow of going through those dark days in March of 2020, April of 2020, all of our properties were shuttered. Our pipeline in terms of development looked pretty bleak. And then the absolute rebound into June of 2020, when we were allowed to reopen our doors and all of a sudden we’re hitting record levels of occupancy, record levels of revenue. And the team to kind of rubber band through that really was just extremely uplifting. And I think that’s kind of the culture that we’ve carried through the last couple of years, as we’ve continued to expand here at AutoCamp, is really that roll up your sleeves, that’s one of our mission statements, but get done and kind of have that MacGyver attitude to really kind of use whatever tools, whatever resources we have to get the job done.
Karen – 00:04:57: I love it. You know, it’s resilience and grit. We say that a lot at Revinate. It’s really how do you get the team to get motivated? It has to do a lot with your culture. And as you said, I love that. That’s an awesome mission statement because it really is true because sometimes you just got to get the stuff done. Alright. So the next question, what is the most striking experience so far for you personally in terms of food or a stay or a holiday that comes to mind?
Vinny – 00:05:24: I’d have two because food’s a huge passion of mine, both cooking and consuming. When I was younger, I had the opportunity to go on a trip to Italy with my whole entire Italian family and we stayed at a really nice hotel in Rome called the Rose Garden or Rose Palace. It’s kind of close to the main train station in Rome. And I remember it was like the first nice hotel I’d ever stayed in, we were a Motel 6 family through and through. And as like a 17 year old kid walking downstairs to breakfast one morning, just the spread that they had was unbelievable, and we’re talking like high-end execution of, you know, what essentially was a buffet breakfast. So that was an unbelievable experience. And then in terms of restaurant experiences, my favorite restaurant in the entire world is Frank in New York City, it’s on Second Avenue, and every time I’m in the city, I make sure that I have lunch or dinner there. Every time I eat there, it blows my mind and it is just the most amazing kind of quintessential New York Italian restaurant experience.
Karen – 00:06:25: Wow, I love it. That’s saying a lot. You know, there’s a lot of good food in New York City. So yeah, you heard it here first, Frank. Awesome. OK, and have you met any celebrities while you’ve been out there in the trenches?
Vinny – 00:06:38: Yeah, but it’s funny. I was thinking about trying to come up with a good answer and it’s extremely niche and specific to any Cal Bears or 49er fans out there. So one of my first jobs was being a front desk agent and I got a phone call and the name pops up on the phone screen and the voice is instantly recognizable to me, like I know instantly who this guy is based on the name and the voice and you’re not supposed to kind of interact with celebrities, we’ll call this gentleman a celebrity but I couldn’t help myself. He was so important to me in my childhood. The guy’s name is Joe Starkey. He was the 49ers radio broadcaster and the Cal Bears radio broadcaster for football and like all my memories of childhood on Sunday mornings are basically mowing the lawn with my dad and listening to the 49ers on like a megaphone in our backyard. So I told the guy this story and I was instantly super embarrassed and super scared thinking like, oh my God, I shouldn’t have said anything to him. He’s going to tell my boss that I like approached him. It was probably like 9.30 at night and at the time the guy was 65, 70 years old, he came down to the front desk and asked to shake my hand and say thank you for telling him. And it was like the most amazing thing. I got to sit there and chat with him for a couple minutes. So that’s my favorite celebrity interaction I’ve ever had working in hotels.
Karen – 00:07:51: I love that. That is an awesome story. Wow. Alright. Very cool. Okay, final question. Who are the women at work you have been most inspired by?
Vinny – 00:08:02: Okay, this was also a hard one for me to come up with because there’ve been so many. But there’s two women I work with right now I think that have helped kind of change me as much as my wife has changed me and get me to look at things from a different perspective and certainly approach situations with a different, probably more positive and compassionate attitude. Taylor Davis, who’s our VP of Brand Marketing, and then Julie Saunders, our CMO, I work with them on a daily basis, absolutely love them to death and they’re both extremely inspirational. Come from different backgrounds than me in terms of where the majority of their time in their career has been spent. Julie’s worked a lot in hotels, but Taylor, this is her first hotel gig and those two women are two of the most badass people I’ve ever met in my life. They’ll crack skulls and they’ll get it done which is what we’re all about but they do so with grace, they do so with compassion and yeah I absolutely love working with both of them
Karen – 00:08:53: Very cool. Well, and I mean, obviously I pay a lot of attention to your marketing so I can attest to the inspiration, the creativity. I mean, every time I see a campaign, I’m like, I gotta get out of here. It’s time to go on vacation. Okay, we do have listeners outside the United States who might not be familiar with what an Airstream is. Can you give us a little bit of a history lesson on what Airstreams are and how you came up with that idea to use that as a hospitality experience?
Vinny – 00:09:20: Yeah, so Airstreams are essentially a travel trailer, an RV if you will. They’ve been around since the ‘50s. Their kind of uniqueness is that they are made out of aluminum as opposed to fiberglass, which is the majority of what you see on the road. So our partnership with them really was a product of our founders, Neil Dipaola and Chris Haydon. They have an RV park here in Santa Barbara and what they wanted to do was basically take a couple of the spaces in the RV park and kind of set it up for more elevated low income housing. So they bought six vintage Airstreams from the ‘50s and ‘60s, we actually have one of them still here in a parking lot, and they had an architectural firm, basically redesigned the insides of them. So gut them and kind of make them more set up for living as opposed to traveling. And then did some landscaping and built some decks around these six spots and they were gonna rent them out to folks on a monthly basis. Well, as they were getting things ready, they had a couple of the units ready to go. So they threw them on Airbnb before they’re ready to rent them out. And all of a sudden it just started to pick up steam and gain this momentum. And they’re selling out every night and they’re raising the rates and they’re selling out and they’re raising the rates. Gained so much notoriety that Sunset magazine basically wrote a cover story about this little six unit, you know, essentially micro-hotel in Santa Barbara. So that’s what the kind of the kickstarter moment of AutoCamp was. And then that’s rolled into other properties. We bought our property up in Guerneville in the Russian river. And then after that’s kind of when we partnered with our capital partner, Whitman Peterson, they made a strategic investment in our platform and also in kind of the real estate side of the business. And then we’ve been growing like weeds ever since. But in the time between we went from Santa Barbara into Guerneville, contacted Airstream and basically worked with them to custom design Airstream specifically for AutoCamp. So these units, we try not to call them trailers, we call them units or suites, they aren’t set up for road life at all. So they’re not meant to be moved, they’re meant to be lived in like a hotel room. So we’re on like our seventh or eighth version of them. The majority of guests wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, it’s a lot of things behind the walls and just a kind of changing of materials to make them more durable and better for hosting thousands of guests a year. So now we’re Airstream’s basically number one customer and we’re buying hundreds of these Airstreams every year and placing them on our properties. I think one of the things that’s really interesting, every person I talk to, friends, family, colleagues, they don’t understand the scale of what an AutoCamp is, and most people think it’s similar to that first property, there’s six of them. So a typical AutoCamp property will have between like 80 and 100 units. So we’re talking about spread out over a couple of acres, like it’s pretty impressive when you walk on property, you’ve been to Yosemite and you’ve seen it. There’s just all this aluminum throughout the forest and it’s such a nostalgic feel. So that’s kind of our evolution of our partnership with Airstream.
Karen – 00:12:09: It really is striking when you walk onto a property like that. So I’ve heard you talk a lot at AutoCamp about bringing luxury outdoors. That’s really kind of the value proposition. So how are you pulling that idea throughout every location to drive RevPAR? How do you think about that with the amenities and the things that come together for the guests as you think across the different locations?
Vinny – 00:12:32: Yeah, I think there’s really three main things, at least for me, that I think we’re able to create that value prop with. One is the design. So we’re talking high design, high touch, using the right materials, hiring the right designers. We have a design team on staff and then we partner with architects and interior designers to design our spaces. The second most important thing is probably the amenities. So what are we offering to guests? So we have a food and beverage program. We have some amazing retail that creates convenience, but also kind of creates special moments where a family can sit around and have, you know, a s’mores cookout or do a barbecue where they’re cooking their own meal over the fire. We’ve got pools at a lot of our properties. We have games, we have lawns, we have hiking trails. All the AutoCamps have some kind of key features that they’re shared across the portfolio. So communal fire pits inside and outside so folks can kind of hang out and get to know other travelers. And then the third thing I think that’s the most important is our staff. So we’re hiring folks and paying them a wage that really allows them to deliver excellent service. We really doubled down on this in 2023 and really focused on our external review scores. So looking at how people perceive us on the various different channels, Google and Expedia, and the teams just really come together to embrace that. So that’s a big focus. I think those three things, all similar things that I think traditional luxury or boutique hotels and resorts focus on. We try to model our business after that from an experience standpoint so that our guests are feeling comfortable. Because really what we’re doing is bridging the gap between camping and a luxury hotel. We kind of sit somewhere, I wouldn’t say the middle, we’re probably leaning more towards the top third of being similar to a hotel. So we’re trying to pull those folks out of what’s uncomfortable for them. They’re not campers. They’re not folks who are, you know, setting up the old Coleman tent and laying down a tarp. They come from luxury hotels. So we’re either pulling them into camping or pulling them out of camping and kind of laying in that top third.
Karen – 00:14:24: You bring up an interesting point because you are straddling between luxury and the outdoor experience. So let’s talk a little bit about sustainability because I think there’s also probably expectations, my guess, there’s expectations for guests for sustainability across hospitality. But how is that a little bit different? Or how do you think about that with AutoCamp because you are sitting out in these pristine locations?
Vinny – 00:14:45: Yeah, so there’s some sexy stuff that we do. There’s not so sexy stuff that we do. The not so sexy stuff I think has a bigger impact and that’s we basically have our own wastewater treatment plants on the property. The majority of our properties where all we’re putting back into the ground or putting back into the system is clean water. This year, we’ve definitely focused on some property specific initiatives working towards eliminating the use of single use plastic. I’m saying working towards that because we did a full audit and it’s thousands of items that have single use plastic from what you get shipped to you from the hotel supply company to the pens that you have at the front desk. So we basically did a full audit of everything that guests and employees touch on property and we’re going one by one and either finding like reusable replacements or finding items like sponges and pens were two things that we were able to easily find replacements that don’t use plastic in them. So it’s a huge focus of ours. One of our mission statements also is kind of getting people into the outdoors. We want people to embrace nature and to kind of feel the healing power of mother nature and the only way that we continue to do that for the next hundred years is by helping to preserve those natural environments and do right by our customers, our children, our friends, our family, and kind of doing the right thing to take care of mother.
Karen – 00:16:01: I love that because I think, you know, as you said, it’s so important as a consumer, you want to feel like you’re experiencing the outdoors so all of that non sexy stuff means something I think to all of us, you know, it’s like my footprint is not as bad as I think it is, maybe. So that’s great. It’s one little thing at a time. So I know you’re constantly innovating at AutoCamp and you’ve got a new location coming next year. Can you tell us a little bit about that? I’m really excited for that one.
Vinny – 00:16:26: Yeah, we have a couple with the one that’s the most future on the horizon, I guess I would say is AutoCamp Asheville. So right outside of downtown Asheville, I’m heading out there for the first time in two weeks and really excited. That’ll be our first kind of urban adjacent location, I would say, because Asheville is kind of a bigger city than where we typically operate. So we’re really excited to get into that community and partner with a lot of local businesses to provide an awesome experience to guests in North Carolina. The property is right on the river. It has a lot of slope to it so it’s going to create some awesome little hideaways for folks to get away and relax. And we’re going to be having some new unit types there that we’re waiting to kind of fully announce when we announce bookings, but a new product with Airstream that we’re going to have. AutoCamp Asheville, that’ll be a really cool, unique option.
Karen – 00:17:13: Wow, that sounds amazing. And when is that one opening? What’s the projected opening date?
Vinny – 00:17:17: We’re hoping to open that one in the spring of 2024. So that’s our target right now.
Karen – 00:17:23: All right, we’ll be here before we know it. Okay.
Vinny – 00:17:26: Closely following that, we’ll be opening a location in the Hill Country in Texas, just kind of in between San Antonio and Austin. And then back here in our home state of California, we’ll be opening up our next national park location just outside Sequoia National Park.
Karen – 00:17:41: That’s the one I was thinking about, but I’m very excited for all three. But I love the Grand Sequoias, and I think that’s gonna be an amazing location. So you talked a little bit about how you interface with the marketing team. So as you identify and pursue other venues to generate revenue, what ensures that sales and revenue and marketing are all aligned together? So as you embark on all of these, what are your recommendations for other teams out there to make sure you’ve got alignment, single purpose, and that you’re all moving in the right direction to get done?
Vinny – 00:18:12: Yeah, it’s the number one topic we talk about in the commercial strategy arena, various conferences and whatnot. It always seems like it’s the number one thing that people want to talk about. What I found to be successful here is that we approach the difficult conversations kind of with an egoless mindset. I’m not in this for Vinny Cuneo. I’m not in this to prove that revenue managers are smarter than marketers or revenue managers are smarter than salespeople. If we all kind of have the same aligned goals and the same aligned vision of what success is, then there really should be no kind of conflict. You know, you’re going to have disagreements in terms of, you know, how you’re going to get to that top of the KPI mountain. But if you’re doing so with the business in mind you’re doing so with kind of that core focus of what is our top goal that we’re trying to achieve, and you check yourself as you’re making the little decisions that lead to the big decision, hey, is this in service of our end goal? I think to me, that’s the thing that really brings at least the leadership team together. And for us, it’s then setting the example for the folks that work with us. So if we, as the senior leaders are setting the example of, we’re going to do this in a way where we’re not thinking about ego, where we’re trying to be as compassionate and considerate in our disagreements and our decision making as possible, then that kind of culture flows through the rest of the organization. I do think that having centralized leadership over the commercial aspect of the organization helps kind of create that as well. You know, when you have kind of these silos in terms of the structure in an organization, that instantly creates that conflict because you kind of are competing against each other. So I think it’s both the structure, but it’s also that kind of egoless service of what the end goal is that really helps create that real tight collaboration.
Karen – 00:19:55: Yeah, that’s great. That’s amazing. Get in line and get it done, so fantastic. All right, great. And for anybody who wants to know a little bit more about AutoCamp, what’s the URL? I think I know. Pretty easy, but let us know.
Vinny – 00:20:08: AutoCamp.com or @AutoCamp on Instagram. Our brand when we started 10 years ago, this is our 10-year anniversary, really was built on the backs of organic Instagram posts and kind of, you know, we were early adopters of using user-generated content in our marketing just because folks were taking such amazing pictures, but that’ll allow you to kind of dive in and see what the AutoCamp experience. We’re growing, like we’ve talked about three new locations opening in 2024, so we’re hoping that we can inspire more lives and get people outside in the years to come.
Karen – 00:20:41: Okay, you heard it here first. Check out the Instagram. It is true. It’s great. It’s great photos. So thank you, Vinny. It’s been awesome. My guest has been Vinny Cuneo, the Vice President of Sales and Marketing Strategy at AutoCamp. Thank you so much.
Vinny – 00:20:53:Thanks, Karen.
Outro – 00:21:19:Thank you for listening to the Hotel Moment Podcast. Make sure to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. And if you’re watching on YouTube, please like the video and subscribe for more content. For more information, head to hotelmomentpodcast.com. The Hotel Moment Podcast is presented by Revinate.