Willow Grove atop Travel + Leisure list

Matt Scibal, general manager of The Inn at Willow Grove, displays first-place trophies from Travel+Leisure magazine recognizing the Orange inn as the best hotel in the South. 

“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, the 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?” he asked rhetorically. “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 Inn’s 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 explained. “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 new spa and eat.

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

Two years ago, the Inn at 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.

“There are lots of beautiful places on those lists,” David Scibal said. “I mean, the Cloister? The Blackberry? The Inn at Little Washington.” He ticked off the accolades of each admiringly. “Compared to them—and others—it’s nice to be mentioned in that group.”

Both admitted some familiarity with the competition and an awareness of how other hotels, resorts and the places they travel treat their guests.

“I’m always paying attention,” Matt Scibal said. “I’m taking pictures. Paying attention to how we’re greeted. What their turn-down service is like. I’m looking around.”

All that translates back to the guests’ experience at Willow Grove.

“We’ll do anything our guests ask that’s not unethical, immoral or illegal,” David Scibal said.

Both understand it’s customer service that lands them on the list.

“Otherwise, we’re just another place,” Matt Scibal said, admitting he’s totally going to visit The Lodge & Spa at Brush Creek Ranch, Saratoga, Wyo., that’s just ahead of the Inn on the U.S. list.

“We always need to continue to improve our level of service,” David Scibal added. “We always can do better.”

For a listing of Travel + Leisure’s top Southern, American and worldwide traveler experiences, visit www.travelandleisure.com.

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