Jeff Meek Interviews Kevin Sexton
In the Second Interview of “Voice Your Questions with Jeff Meek”, Kevin Sexton, HSV POA Director of Tourism and Community Affairs clarified some issues. Meek, Managing Editor of Hot Springs Village Voice, started off the interview by stating, “ He’s in the, I don’t know, is this the hot seat or the limelight or what here?”
Sexton replied, “Oh, I love it. I love it. Absolutely.”
Sexton’s role in HSVPOA
Meek went on to ask questions submitted by the community and also a few of his own. The first question was from Keith V. Hall.
Keith V. Hall asked, “precisely and succinctly, what do you do and how are these tasks of direct value to the corporate community organization?”
Sexton responded that he was excited about the interview and that in his role as Director of Tourism and Community Affairs he was in charge of the visitor experience with “the encouragement of property ownership to be the major role of my position”.
In fulfilling his role, Sexton is in charge of:
1. Discovery Packages, which Sexton explains were introduced last year,
2. Member Host Program, which is a program where residents spend time with visitors, and
3. Gold Star Vacation Rental Program, which promotes only the best vacation rentals.
Sexton also brings to the table his past experience with the state government and resources from the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. Sexton states that he has good regional relationships.
What is Community Affairs?
Meek went on to ask a second question from Hall, “What is Community Affairs? Can you cite specific accomplishments in this area during your tenure?”
Sexton responded, “The Gold Star Vacation Rental is a fantastic example of Community Affairs and also the Member Host Program.” Sexton explained that both of these allow the property owners to get involved with bringing in more property owners.
If you go to any website of a major market you see places to stay. “We don’t have lodging at this point.” “We want to take all the vacation rentals and give them added exposure on our Explore the Village dot com website.”
In further explanation, Sexton shares that the POA has a committee that checks out the prospective vacation rental home. If the home is of Gold Star status, and meets the standards and requirements of the POA, the POA promotes this home on the Explore the Village dot com website. It is also a requirement that the resident advertises on Airbnb or Vrbo or some other entity.
What is the size of your staff and what are your daily responsibilities?
Continuing the interview, Meek asked a question from Villager, George Tenuta. Tenuta asked, “what is the size of his staff and what does he and they do on a day-to-day basis?” Your top five activities, daily.”
Response from Sexton:
Sexton answered that he has two people under him.
1. Joseph Price, Manager of Communications, and
2. Susan Fite, Discovery Package and Discovery Welcome Center Manager (Fite works out of Village Homes and Land location).
Sexton is also the staff liaison for the 50th Anniversary Committee which is one of his main areas of focus right now. Sexton also contacts member hosts on a day-to-day basis, answers emails and works with Ghidotti to proof advertising articles and make sure we approve of the Ghidotti publications.
Sexton also says he is constantly thinking of the Discovery Packages.
Sexton’s role with the HSV Chamber of Commerce
Meek points out that Sexton is also on the HSV area Chamber of Commerce and wants to know how he sees that as beneficial.
Sexton says, “I think that is very beneficial. I think, this is so important and I learned this from my economic development days, that the governing, city council and chamber need to be working hand-in-hand when you are trying to accomplish goals and accomplish projects.”
Sexton explains that he and Jason Temple are both involved in the Chamber. Sexton says, “that the both of us just have an insight of what is going on at the chamber. And the chamber knows what the POA is doing, and so that we can work hand-in-hand and we’re working together to try to accomplish the goals of Hot Springs Village.”
Gap between Tellico and HSV Discovery Package numbers
Meek says, “also from George (Tenuta), ‘Mr. Sexton made a comment at the recent Marketing Forum that Tellico Village had 500 Discovery Package trips in 2017 and 2018. We are targeting something like 50. What is he personally doing to understand the huge gap in what they are doing and what he is doing?’”
Sexton explained that the Tellico Village trip was “a very powerful trip for me to go to Tellico Village and see…”
Meek asked, “when was that? When did you go?”
Sexton responded, “it was right when, it was probably in the first three or four months of when I started, last year in January. Tellico Village has had the Discovery Package program for 5 or 6 years.”
Sexton was impressed by Tellico’s Ambassador Program. Sexton said, “when we got there, we had a resident of the community take us on a tour and it was during that time that I realized that that was the most powerful part of the entire tour, was just spending time with a resident.” Because of this, HSV POA developed their own Member Host Program. If visitors wish, they are paired up with a Villager who will either play golf, pickleball or tennis with them.”
Sexton promotes the Discovery Packages through marketing, the newcomer’s meetings that they have every day and also through the POA website, “Explore the Village dot com”. Sexton explains that the Discovery Package tab on the website is the second most visited section on the website.
Sexton says, “going to these trade shows, Jeff, that we’ve been to, going to ‘Ideal Living’ in Chicago, going to a golf show in Kansas City, going to a travel and adventure show in Dallas is getting the word out and through publications and through our social media, through Facebook, we are constantly promoting our Discovery Packages.”
Sexton states, “you know last year, we just kicked it off and we did 37 for the entire year. We’re already over 40 for the entire year, this year. So, we are well ahead. We’ve already done more this year, booked-wise, than we did the entire 2018. So, I know that we are slowly improving our marketing of our packages.”
Meek asks, “a question that pops into my mind. Tellico Village at 500 and we’re around, would you say, 40?”
Sexton agrees and says his goal for this year was 50.
Meek stated that there was obviously a huge difference between Tellico’s numbers and ours with Tellico selling 500 of their Discovery Packages a year. Meek wanted to know if Tellico reached the goal of 500 the year the program started.”
Sexton responded, “no, they did not. As I mentioned before, they have been doing this five, six years. They’ve been doing it a long time. Do I want to have that? Absolutely. It all comes down to increased revenue within our marketing budget, making sure that we are getting the word out about our Discovery Packages in every avenue possible.”
Sexton stated that the Pickleball Tournament was an opportunity to meet visitors and give them a tour. He had a table set up, in order to promote the Village. Sexton said, “So, I know there’s improvement that we need to do in our marketing but I think we’re doing some good things and we are going to continue to do so, Jeff.”
Sexton’s plans to expand marketing for HSVPOA
Meek inquired, “again, not from a submitted question, but you mentioned marketing and would like to do more and so on. I know you don’t have the budget you’d probably like to have. If you had more, what would you like to see as another step taken in marketing?”
Sexton replies, “sure, I mean, you can never be satisfied with your marketing. Of course, I have dreams. I have things that I would like to see accomplished and overarching, one of the main things I would like to see is just improvement of our website.”
Sexton says, “if you go to the state website for the Department of Parks and Tourism Arkansas dot com, they have a very large budget as you can imagine. I just love looking at that website and all the bells and whistles that that website has. So, I would like to improve our website.”
Regarding the website improvements Sexton would like to see are:
1. Improve our Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
2. See the website be a little more mobile friendly.
Sexton would also like to have a better presence at the out-of-state Welcome Centers. The brochures we have now are outdated.
Sexton’s accomplishments at HSVPOA
Meeks combined a question from Sharon Bowan and Robert Pinson:
“Please provide examples of accomplishments you have made since joining the POA and what affect they have had on the Village.”
1. The accomplishment of our Discovery Packages. 37 packages from last year resulted in 6 conversions (sales).
2. “I think one of the biggest accomplishments I have made since I have been on board, and I knew this was what I wanted to do from the very onset of me coming to the community, was make a trip to Little Rock and visit with the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. I wanted to meet with the Tourism Director, Jim Dailey. And I did that. Just that visit alone and my past experience with the state. It really rekindled our relationship in terms of tourism with the state. And what has resulted from that is multiple trips that have come out here from the Department of Parks and Tourism. Just last week the Deputy Director and the Communications Director came out and visited us. But the most important thing that happened from my trip to Little Rock is, they see the economic value of the retirement/relocation opportunities in Arkansas.”
Meek said, “you and I did an interview some time ago for our ‘HSV Life Magazine’. Correct me if I am wrong here, but as I remember it, you had said that the state also helped in some way with your visit to Chicago.”
Sexton replied, “that’s right. They’ve done two things that monetarily have helped us.
Sexton said that the State of Arkansas has helped with the promotion of Hot Springs Village.
1. Number one, “they paid for our booth this year, to go to Chicago, to be there, which was thousands of dollars. They put out of their own budget…of course the legislation approved appropriations for retirement and relocation so yes, they paid.”
2. Number two, “last summer the state came out, their marketing groups, CJRW, came out to the Village and spent two days doing footage of the Village. We did footage on the golf course. We did motorcycle footage, drone footage. We went to the lawn bowling. We went different places, to the fitness center and they took all these, not only photographs but the video. Then in turn what the state did, which I am so thankful for is they literally allowed us to use this footage at no cost. So we’re using this footage and some of these pictures for some of our marketing purposes right now, a lot of our social media posts, some of the footage that we got out at Lake Balboa at sunset, we used that. And all that didn’t cost us a dime. I’m really thankful to have that.”
3. “We’ve also had a travel writer that’s come out from the Department of Parks and Recreation and Tourism that wrote a piece on kayaking and canoeing in DeSoto Lake. So, I’m really proud of that, just having that relationship with the state.”
Meek asked, “so we’ve got them on board?”
Sexton stated, “we do and it is a partnership. I am all about Arkansas. I am a lifelong Arkansan and we’re a small state and I believe, I truly believe, even not working only regionally, but working together as a state.”
Sexton talks about the collaboration with other Cooper Communities and how this is helping to bring some folks to Arkansas.
Do we offer a free dinner or round of golf?
A question from D. C. Reed was asked, “are we getting the names, email and address of every visitor that uses any of our amenities and are we offering them a free dinner or round of golf if they agree to take a tour of the Village, while here? And if not, why not?”
Sexton responded, “why don’t I just quickly, and some of the people may not know what a Discovery Package is and what you get when you come on one. So I’ll quickly run through that. So as you come in as a couple for a Discovery Package you can either come to play golf or you can come to not play golf. To play golf it is $349. To not play golf it is $299. That is tax included. The POA is at essentially a break-even point. You get dinner at one of the POA restaurants. You get dinner at either DeSoto or you get dinner at Granada. You have access to our fitness center. You can go out there and work out. You also have access to our racket sports. You can either play tennis, you can play pickleball. You do get a community tour. You get a community tour by either us…”
Involving the community real estate agents in the Discovery Packages is key
Continuing, Sexton says, “I always like to stop right here. This Discovery Package Program is for all real estate agents within the Village. That’s how Tellico Village has made it so successful is because all the real estate agents are on board and I mention at (indecipherable – I think he said Rotary) the other day. Our Discovery Package is for any real estate agent in the Village, for their client to come use. We will essentially help with putting a Welcome Packet together. We will help with logistics, like set up a tee time. And that is all we do with a Discovery Package if a real estate client, real estate agent brings their client to us. And so, so yes, to answer your question, they get a tour. They get dinner. They have the opportunity to play golf.”
Sexton said, “we just started a brand new Discovery Package this year for Diamante. It is a little bit more expensive. So I think that is a great opportunity to help Diamante, as well.”
Sexton says the POA keeps a list of who comes and sends out a survey afterward. All the returned surveys have been fantastic.
Sexton explains that there are now three lodging options. You can stay at the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, or at Mt Carmel in their pocket neighborhood, in one of their beautiful homes that they have here. Sexton, said, “we also started a partnership, Jeff, with Embassy Suites in Hot Springs. Typically, they blacked us out on a lot of dates, but it’s important for me, until, hopefully at some point we get lodging in the Village, that we have multiple options for our lodging.”
Sexton explained, “and some people want to stay in Hot Springs, because I see Hot Springs as just as, and Benton, as just as important as selling the Village as anything.”
Sexton, stated he thinks regionally.
Sexton’s sales team and tailored Discovery Packages
Meek asks another question from D. C. Reed.
Reed asked, “if you take them on a tour, what exactly are you trying to sell them before they leave the Village. And do you have the type of sales team, aka ‘Old Cooper Sales Team’, to close the business?”
Sexton responded, “well, we want to tailor a visit. You know, I am not, when a real estate agent is involved in the Discovery Package, obviously, I am not on the tour. That is the real estate. Now if somebody wants to come to the Village and just wants to take a tour of the community, with just me showing them the amenities, taking them to Coronado, to the Woodlands, to the Granada, just the different places, Lookout Point, I am happy to do that. So, but I know for a fact that the best way to take care of a visitor when you go on a tour, is to make sure that you know as much information as you possibly can, about that visitor, before they get there. Because you don’t want to waste your time. And you don’t want to waste their time. You want to give them a tour based around what they tell you that they want to see.”
Sexton asked, “do we have the sales team that Cooper had? As I mentioned to you before, in terms of the POA, it’s just myself and it’s Susan and we have Cheryl Dunson, who’s at Village Homes and Land. But again, the extension of that is that every real estate agent within our community, that is to me our sales team.”
Rosenow asks, are there plans to collaborate with area realtors?
Meek said, “Okay. Well, speaking of realtors, from James Rosenow…
Rosenow asked, “Many area realtors do a very good job of promoting the Village in their own way…”
Sexton interjects, “yeah”.
Meek continues with Rosenow’s question, “are there any plans to form a collaborative effort where both POA and marketing efforts can be consolidated or conjoined so there is a single or common promotional message?”
Sexton says, “I would love to see more. Absolutely. I would love to see more of that and I know that, I know that our CEO has met with the Board of Realtors. But I am here to say again that this brand-new program that we have can be that. It can be the joining of the real estate family and our family to join together to work with, to work with visitors who are here.”
Sexton continues, “and also, the Member Host Program. I mean, when we trained the member hosts, that came in, we have over 20 member hosts right now. The Board, I made sure that the Board of Realtors were involved in that and they were there in the room with us. That’s another joint collaborative effort that we can do. I encourage all real estate agents to use the member hosts that we have in place. And the training that they went through was some of the same training that I used to put mayors and county judges through whenever they would have a prospect in town. What you say to a client, what you don’t say to a client, things that, how you dress, the appropriate things to do when you’re spending time with someone who is considering to move here.”
Sexton explains that when visitors are here on a Discovery Package, they’re not here for vacation or to play golf. They are here, investigating the Village as a potential relocation spot. There is a substantial investment involved and they are considering HSV among two or three other options.
Meek asks, “how do you know that? Is it by what they say to you?”
Sexton answers yes and explains that we have to find a way to set ourselves apart or differentiate ourselves from the other communities.
Sexton says that it is important that when a visitor comes, that they completely enjoy their experience.
Meek inquired if Sexton received a lot of feedback on what the visitors did and didn’t like about the visit. Sexton details that the visit is tailored to the visitors’ interests.
Sexton explained, one of the things that we do before a visitor arrives is we reach out to them personally, via email, via phone. We attempt to gain as much information about the visitor as we can? “What do they want? What do they want to enjoy when they come here? What would they like to see?”
“Whether that be, ‘hey, I’d like to take a spin around Lake Balboa. I would like to go to watch bridge being played. I would like to see the auditorium where they have all these different types of events so we make sure that we can help them with as much as they possibly can’.” One of the wonderful things about the Village is there is so many different and varied social and recreational opportunities.
Meek asked if either the hosts, Sexton or a staffer takes the visitors to see bridge or out on a lake?”
Sexton says, “yes, yes. If a real estate agent wants to partner with a member host, we will. The member host has a resource guide to be able to answer just basic questions about the Village and then the realtor will meet at the amenity. Let’s just say, let’s just say it’s golf. The real estate agent will take their client and meet with the member host. And of course, this is all coordinated at the golf course. They play a round of golf with the visitor. The member host does. And then the real estate agent comes back and picks up their client. I mean it is completely controlled by the real estate client. And what’s key, what, what one of the things that I had really stressed in the member host program, Jeff, is if a member host breaks that confidentiality with the client, if they start talking about other agents or start talking about other builders, if they go outside of what they need to be doing, then they’ll no longer be a member host. Confidentiality to me is one of the most important parts of being a member host. And I stress that through the training.”
Meek concludes the interview by saying there will be another in two or three weeks.
Editor’s note on some differences between Tellico and HSVPOA:
Looking at Tellico Villages POA website, I noticed that there are 13 home builders listed, including the contact information. The site also lists seven independent real estate agents, which the Tellico POA recommends due to “a long, outstanding history of serving the residents of this community”.
I contacted Tellico Villages, requesting information, through the POA website and promptly received a response back, not from the POA but from an independent realtor. They do not appear to have a “Tellico Homes and Land” division, but instead, it appears they let the independent real estate agents sell their community.
In a Google search, only one HSV realtor turned up as having an association with the Discovery Packages and when clicking the link, a 404 error code came up, which likely means the link was removed. There may or may not be other agents working with the POA and Discovery Packages and your search results may differ from mine.
Also of note, Tellico Villages does not have a CEO. They have a General Manager.
From the Tellico POA website: “The Tellico Village Property Owners Association promotes a participatory form of governance from its membership, and all meetings of the Board and committees are open to the property owners.”
Voice Your Questions with Jeff Meek: Episode 2 Kevin Sexton
Written by Cheryl Dowden