Apple camping – An eclectic collection of accommodation options

The owner of an eccentric assortment of hospitality units offers such a wild and zany experience that pleases his guests consistently so highly that his marketing costs are zero: upbeat social media posts do all the heavy lifting for him

Apple camping Pembrokeshire – Out of this world

The owner of an eccentric assortment of hospitality units offers such a wild and zany experience that pleases his guests consistently so highly that his marketing costs are zero: upbeat social media posts do all the heavy lifting for him

Apple Camping Site Plan
Apple Camping Site Plan

Hidden in the Welsh countryside is a mind-blowing overnight hospitality playground. It features a Learjet, a UFO, a larger-than-life Pacman, yurts, cabins, a bell tent, a submarine and much more. Except it’s not a playground, for it is in fact a hospitality venue, attracting guests with an imagination who are excited at the thought of spending time away from home on a spaceship or a plane.

Toby Rhys Davies began his Pembrokeshire business some eight years ago, initially with yurts, before deciding to diversify – figuring, as he puts it, that people want “the weird and the whacky”. And his occupancy rates quite clearly prove he was not wrong.

Satisfied Guests do the marketing

First impressions are that the site is a bit random, frivolous, a bit crazy, and what looks at first sight like a random collection of weird buildings. But the property and its amenities are tidy, well laid-out and clean. And as guests often testify in their reviews, there is no shortage of attention to detail in the rooms.

Toby fills around 40 beds a night, which puts Apple Camping in the same league as a fair-sized hotel. He often fills the rooms by letting out the properties to large parties, and his occupancy rate he says is consistently high, making it a substantial business with an enviable turnover.

UFO At Apple Camping
UFO At Apple Camping

Yet, amazingly, his marketing costs are close to zero. His customers, he explains, carry out his PR and marketing function to great effect with dramatic, visual social media posts on Instagram and Facebook – often with positively excited narrative commentary. The eccentricity of the place resonates in these reviews.

Concept themes at Apple camping Pembrokeshire

Apple Camping is divided into three concepts: Under the Stars, Amidst the Stars and Beneath the Waves, the latter of which is where the submarine features. Under the Stars meanwhile has the Igloo, which is described as having been inspired by the pairing of Shackleton and Pingu, and which features underfloor heating as well as a wood burner. Access to the Igloo is through the cold room storage door and a small tunnel into a huge 6.8m geodesic dome with a mahogany coloured floor and furnished in white.

The place is often filled up by group bookings such as weddings. For such events, Toby says, there is (of course) a disco church on site. “That’s a great place for banquets, of for people to get together and just use as a communal area,” he says. “At night guests can enjoy the fire pits. It’s good to have under undercover area for visitors to enjoy late at night.”

Disco Chapel at Apple Camping
Disco Chapel at Apple Camping

Council approval at Apple camping Pembrokeshire

As facilities became available such as the submarine that Toby wished to install at the property, he’d alter the site plan to appear exactly as it does on the ground before taking it back to the council for approval.

“Councils are not particularly in favour of allowing you to put things that are really oddball just anywhere,” he says. “Therefore, a key factor when confronted with such planning obstacles is to persuade them firstly that the collection has been carefully and deliberately hidden away, and secondly that you are being respectful to the environment,” he says.

He remarks that you can be quite careful in this regard, remaining sympathetic to the area, while still having a great deal of fun. “The fun is putting in stuff which ordinarily might get thrown away, or simply not recycled,” he says.

Wedding at Apple Camping
Weddings at Apple Camping

Attention to detail at Apple camping Pembrokeshire

When it comes to facilities, attention to detail is core to Toby’s planning. The submarine, for example, does not just feature its own lavatory, but has underfloor heating as well as radiators, ensuring occupants are warm and content all year round.

But when it comes to detail, a key consideration worth noting is that councils are not particularly in favour of allowing commercial hospitality property owners to put things which are, as Toby puts it, “really oddball” just anywhere.

He explains, “I think I’ve managed to persuade them that the collection I have here is hidden away, that the landscape has all been planted out correctly, and I’ve explained to them that I’m being respectful to the environment. For example, we have planted many hundreds of trees.

“You are fine as long as you can do it quite carefully, as long as you can be sympathetic to the area, and you can still have a lot of fun putting in stuff which ordinarily might get thrown away or just not recycled.” he says. He pauses, then adds, “Yes, there’s a bit of fun to be had doing that.”

Glamping options at Apple camping Pembrokeshire
Glamping options at Apple camping Pembrokeshire

Adapting the environment at Apple camping Pembrokeshire

Toby makes Apple Camping sound like a grown-up children’s playground. Which it is. For example, the last thing to be installed on the site was the Gin Palace, which is contained in a powerboat. “First of all we had to decide where we wanted to put it, where it would work. Then we got JCB diggers in, got an electricity supply, got the water and all the other things like that in position before placing it,” he says.

“It’s very much a case of determining what you’ve got, and then how to place it on the land,” he says. “It works. And with the sunrise, sunset, everything, there are a great many considerations to play with: basically, to change the environment to fit the unit as much as anything.”

He describes much of his work on this project as having been the conversion of things at the end of their life to give them a second lease. But he admits the name of the business is slightly misleading. “It’s not so much camping. But it’s definitely glamping and upcycling and recycling,” he says.

Indeed, amidst the imaginative, stellar property portfolio is a collection of canvas yurts, including one enormous bell tent. These go up from around Easter to September each year, he says, but the rest of the rooms are available all year round.

UFO at Apple camping Pembrokeshire
UFO at Apple camping Pembrokeshire

Exacting standards at Apple camping Pembrokeshire

Apart from myriad issues concerning council approval, Toby faced the task of making things like aeroplanes meet the necessary standards of commercial accommodation. That was not easy, he says, and nor was it cheap.

The idea of going for an overnight stay and spending it on board an aeroplane in a plot in Pembrokeshire captures the imagination of different ages. “On a plane, there is no set demographic. It could be a family, kids, youngsters wanting to come attention. We’ve had pilots, the hostesses, we’ve had every type of birth and you can imagine small large everything else being on the plane, they just everyone, it seems to touch a lot of people because everyone remembers going off all day on the plane and they just think well, you know what if in the UK, it’d be quite funny to do that!”

Airplane at Apple camping Pembrokeshire
Airplane at Apple camping Pembrokeshire

Publicity for Apple camping Pembrokeshire

Besides outstanding reviews and an ocean of positive social media coverage, Apple Camping is not short of publicity opportunities. “We find we suddenly get a high number of pop videos recorded on site and have many TV companies wanting to film various shows here. We’ve had a makeover shows building a submarine, we’ve had Four in a Bed here and we’ve had Susan Kuhlman here recently. We have all that sort of stuff. It is quite amusing as the season goes, and as people don’t hold back and they just get dressed up, even if they’re staying on site with other people. It’s really funny.”

On the subject of Four in a Bed, Apple Camping is not really comparable to a B&B, and indeed it does not generally offer breakfast – although Toby provided it for the purposes of Apple Camping’s appearance on Four in a Bed.

He says, “It was it was a real eye-opener because people who get B&Bs, and that’s obviously a sharp focus of the show, half of which was about the breakfast, and they were all really serious about it. They wanted a slap-up breakfast, didn’t get it and really weighed the place accordingly. This shows it’s a very different market. I wouldn’t like to tell them how to do their job because I think we’ve got two different markets, but two which are, believe it or not, very close to each other in category.”

Social Media at Apple camping Pembrokeshire
Social Media at Apple camping Pembrokeshire

Unit capacity at Apple camping Pembrokeshire

After years of developing the property Toby says he is now happy with the number of units at the site. “I think if you put more in it would lose its charm,” he muses. “Now the only thing I’d be tempted to do is maybe tweak a unit. Now I have permission for three years for, say, bell tents, at most I might just alter those by tweaking them into something slightly different.”

He makes it sound so easy.

 

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About Dominic Johnson 344 Articles
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