The Inn at Willow Grove

Matt Scibal, general manager of The Inn at Willow Grove in Orange County, holds trophies bestowed by Travel + Leisure.

JEFF POOLE/ORANGE COUNTY REVIEW

ORANGE — “The customer is always right.”

That’s an age-old business maxim.

For some, it could be a point of contention, frustration or conflict.

At The Inn at Willow Grove, the old saw is validation.

The boutique hotel in Orange recently was named Travel + Leisure’s best hotel in the South, second best hotel in the United States and 24th best hotel worldwide.

All because their customers said so.

Each year, for its World Best Awards survey, the travel magazine and website asks its readers to rate their travel experiences and share their opinions on the top hotels, resorts, cities, airlines and more. Hotels — like Willow Grove — are rated on their facilities, location, service, food and overall value.

David Scibal, owner of The Inn at Willow Grove, admits, “It’s pretty heady company.”

Even better to be at the top of that company.

“It’s all driven by guest experience,” general manager Matt Scibal said.

“It’s about service,” his father added.

“That first call, that’s the only work our guests should do,” Matt Scibal said. “We want them to have a relaxing escape. We want exemplary, but approachable service. We want it to be comfortable. It’s our home, and that’s how we view it. We’re just inviting people in.”

Matt Scibal said the inn aims for “anticipatory” service — being prepared for what their guests want, even if the guests themselves don’t quite know what that is.

“Do we always accomplish that? No. But in the pursuit of perfection, you find excellence.”

“That’s good. I like that,” his father chimed in. “Did you make that up?”

“No. I got that somewhere.”

Still, that pursuit has led the inn to a pretty prestigious place among properties that have much more to offer guests than the 40-acre Willow Grove location — like oceans, big game preserves, mountain ranges or famous golf courses.

A quick rundown of each of the lists reveals larger, more expansive resorts that can offer their guests more in terms of on-site experiences — despite the addition of a popular new spa.

So, for The Inn at Willow Grove, service must be paramount. After all, there are a lot of old, historic buildings where folks can stay.

“The adventurous traveler uses us as a jumping-off point,” Matt Scibal said. “We support Orange and Central Virginia and want them to visit the area — Montpelier, Grelen, Barbecue Exchange, downtown Orange, hiking , the wineries …”

“Orange may be in the middle of nowhere, but it’s in the center of everywhere.”

Still, some just want to stay at the inn, go to the spa and eat.

“We’re OK with that,” both Scibals agree, nearly in tandem.

Two years ago, Willow Grove was first in the South, third in the nation and ninth worldwide. A year later, they were fourth, among the top 100 in the U.S., but not top 100 worldwide.

This year, it’s a different story.

“It’s great to win,” Matt Scibal said. He and his wife, Hope, recently went to New York to collect the inn’s awards. “But we need to win it again next year.”

The recognition helps the inn through marketing, promotion and advertising.

For a listing of Travel + Leisure’s top traveler experiences, visit travelandleisure.com.

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