HYANNIS – The SeaCoast Inn doesn’t have an ocean view, pool, or balconies. There is no food at the no-frills 26-room motel, save for the complimentary doughnuts, cereal, and weak coffee offered each morning. It doesn’t even have a vending machine.
But it does have Terri Noyes and Al Clarizia. The couple, who have owned the seasonal inn for 19 years, arrange whale-watching trips and loan beach chairs and laptops to their guests. They offer tea when guests arrive and saltwater taffy when they leave. They give them rides to the bus station and fix their malfunctioning GPS units.
For the past four years, Noyes and Clarizia’s hospitality has earned TripAdvisor’s top award for service in the country, topping 75,000 US properties on the site. The Newton travel review site ranked the SeaCoast’s service as fourth-best in the world this year, beating out 600,000 properties, including a long list of five-star resorts in glamorous destinations.
“We don’t have a lot of amenities,” said Clarizia, “so our service is our biggest amenity.”
The price isn’t bad either. Rooms go for around $140 a night in the summer, well below the $200 summer average for Cape Cod, twice earning it TripAdvisor’s best bargain in the world.
Noyes, 56, and Clarizia, 65, bought the SeaCoast in 1993 after Noyes earned a degree in hotel administration from Cornell University. The property was in disrepair, with broken faucets, rusty kitchenettes, and mold growing in the showers.
Clarizia, a contractor from Beverly, got to work fixing it up, and he has never stopped. Today, the humble motel is spotless, with new wooden floors, updated fixtures, and hanging baskets of flowers blooming out front.
Noyes, a former office products saleswoman from Sudbury who keeps a cellphone strapped to her hip, is the entertainment coordinator, offering sightseeing suggestions and asking guests about their jobs and children.
“What turns people off the most is indifference,” said Noyes. “When I was in sales, the number one reason you’d lose a customer is indifference.”
Indifference does not appear to be an issue at the SeaCoast. Consider TripAdvisor reviews, like this one: “I have stayed at high dollar places in the past, and believe me they could all come to Al and Terri’s place to learn how to treat their guests.”
To ensure its reviews aren’t written by hotel owners and friends, TripAdvisor employs a 70-member team to inspect suspicious reviews flagged by automated fraud-detection filters and the site’s 50 million monthly users. When compiling its annual list of winners, TripAdvisor uses an algorithim that factors in ratings and number of traveler reviews, giving more weight to the most recent comments.
The site can be inconclusive, with a mix of good and bad reviews that can leave travelers scratching their heads. But the hundreds of glowing comments about the SeaCoast speak to the consistently positive experience people have there, said TripAdvisor spokesman Kevin Carter.
And guests aren’t the only fans.
“Frankly I think it’s one of the best-run motel properties on Cape Cod, if not the best,” said Ken Komenda, co-owner of the Cape Cod Harbor House Inn, down the block from the SeaCoast on Ocean Street.
But not everyone has been blown away. One Google reviewer wrote: “All I can say is, you get what you pay for. It’s a motel in the middle of two brick buildings, with plastic on the mattress. Spend the extra money and go elsewhere.”
The SeaCoast does indeed overlook a parking lot on one side and a brick building on the other. But in the TripAdvisor service rankings, it still beat out the $300-a-night Bayview in Bar Harbor, Maine, with ocean views and a waterfront bar, and the Charterhouse in Torquay, England, a bed and breakfast offering subtropical gardens, a heated outdoor pool, and full English breakfast.
Noyes and Clarizia concede the rave reviews can be a double-edged sword, setting some guests up for disappointment when they see the modest property. As a result, Noyes and Clarizia make it a point to warn newcomers that there is nothing fancy about the SeaCoast.
“I had a young man call who wanted to have a romance weekend,” Noyes said. “I said, ‘Lookit, if you’re here to sightsee, great, but otherwise, you might want to look at a B&B because we’re not a romantic getaway place.’ ”
For hotels, the trick is exceeding expectations, said Michael Oshins, a professor at the Boston University School of Hospitality Administration.
“You go to the Four Seasons, you go to the Ritz-Carlton, you’re expecting five-star service,” he said. “You go to a mom-and-pop place and you figure, ‘I’m not paying a lot, I’m not going to get a lot.’ But if they’re warm and caring, at the end of the day that’s what people really care about.”
Ann Timko is one of many guests who come back year after year. Timko, 62, drives from New Jersey every May and October with her family. She still remembers Noyes calling around Chatham to find the history of buildings Timko had asked about.
“You know that Motel 6 commercial that said, ‘We’ll leave the light on for you?’ ” Timko said. “At the SeaCoast Terri and Al are the light.”
Noyes and Clarizia live on-site during the May-October season, with their cellphone numbers taped to the front door in case someone needs them – like the guest they drove to the hospital after her husband had a heart attack.
Noyes and Clarizia aren’t married, simply telling people, “We’ve been together for 30 years.” They have two shih tzus, one a certified therapy dog who comforted a guest whose mother had died.
Their guests – ranging from a Montana rancher to an English lord – are like family. “It’s six months of 24/7,” Clarizia said. “But it’s nothing but socializing.”
In the winter, Noyes and Clarizia go to their home in Florida and travel, bringing back inspiration from hotels around the world. In Istanbul, they got the idea to build long wooden headboards and put down Oriental rugs. In Paris, they spotted the arrangement for the sunny breakfast area off the lobby, with café tables and granite countertops.
The wooden floors in the guest rooms? Direct from Venice.
Bill Meany, a first-time guest from South Carolina who read the TripAdvisor reviews, was caught off guard when he arrived last week with his wife and daughter and saw a dull gray vinyl-sided building. “When we pulled up I was like, ‘Oh,’ ” he said.
But by the next morning, he was singing Noyes and Clarizia’s praises.
“You can tell that they love it,” he said. “That’s why it works.”