Flashback: It’s December 2006 at the Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association Gala. There are beautifully decorated tables, ball gowns and tuxedos, candlelight, music and friends. Excitement is in the air.
I’m sitting at a table of 10 furiously trying to fix the strap of my gown that has become unhooked. Rich is on stage presenting CFHLA awards when I hear my name: Donna Stutts, “Allied Member of the Year.”
What? Are you kidding me? I had no clue this was coming. The entire audience has to wait until I can be presentable, but then I walk proudly to the stage to Rich Maladecki, president and CEO of the Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association.
Never in my life have I experienced a moment like that. One moment, like so many moments created and orchestrated by Rich Maladecki. For 23 years, Rich has led CFHLA to greatness. The face of Central Florida and tourism has forever been changed. January 2021 marks his final farewell as he retires, but his legacy will live on long after. In honor, we’ve asked Rich to share some of his moments
What are you most proud of during your time with CFHLA?
People want to belong to a successful organization where they know other individuals on a first name basis. I’m proud to have spearheaded a culture where members feel as if they are a part of a family. Our staff has worked hard to develop that type of reputation for our CFHLA.
When someone joins CFHLA, they are invited to events where they get to meet other members, not just staff. In a room of 1,000 CFHLA members, I would say each would know 100+ people on a first name, personal level. We’ve built a culture of networking, a culture of friendship — like an extended family.
Externally, CFHLA’s greatest achievement in the political world was in 2007 when CFHLA led an industry coalition to increase the tourist development tax by 1%. Honestly, it took a year of negotiating with Orange County Government and the City of Orlando Government to secure the needed funding for the new Amway arena, the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, and to help renovate the Citrus Bowl Stadium, now Camping World Stadium.
We secured additional marketing monies for Visit Orlando to help market our destination by successfully increasing the tourist development tax by one cent, representing an additional $20 million. (Now it would be closer to $40 million before Covid.) I believe that success has had a direct correlation to increased number of guests in 2017, 2018 and 2019. We lead the free world in visitation with more than 70 million+ visitors each year.
What is your most memorable experience as president?
I am very, very proud that during my CFHLA career, we have awarded over $2 million in scholarships to hospitality students — money that stayed here in Central Florida to students attending the Valencia College hospitality or UCF Rosen hospitality programs. I’m proud that seven students graduated from UCF Rosen with honors, because we paid for their tuition, room and board, and books. In addition, we worked with the Freeberg Foundation for 7 years to fund a full-ride scholarship for a student for all four years.
What were some memorable initiatives that you supported as president?
In 2002, CFHLA launched the Adopt-A-School program. For nearly 20 years, we’ve encouraged our member companies to participate and adopt 100 schools per year in the tri-county area. We have about 10 businesses that have adopted the same school for 18 or 19 years. The principal of the school changed, the general manager of the lodging establishment changed, but they continued to adopt the school — not just in money but also partnering in person on campus.
We started CFHLA Cares in 2009 as an offshoot of the Adopt-A-School program. Four times a year, we collect nonperishable food items, school supplies and shoes. I can honestly say CFHLA members have donated over 1 million items to Central Florida school districts for homeless students. We definitely walk the talk — not just talk the talk.
To young people getting into the hospitality industry, what would you say to them today?
As an adjunct professor at UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management, I instruct students on the subject of something loosely defined as soft skills. Yes, students need textbook knowledge but they also need to know how to smile, shake hands, and listen — not just hear, but truly listen, to what people are saying. Hospitality students need to be thankful and show a sense of respect to individuals they are serving as customers.
You were president during the 9/11 crash, the 2008 recession and now Covid. What is your best advice to hoteliers?
Obviously, each moment was different psychologically and economically. 9/11 shocked and froze the travel and tourism industry for a 60-day period, but then the industry began to see light at the end of the tunnel. The great recession of 2008-2009 was horrific because it lasted and lasted. When individuals
throughout the world and our country are unemployed or scared of becoming unemployed, discretionary monies for vacations evaporate.
Now, Covid has paralyzed our industry in so many ways. Restrictions on international travel dramatically affected us in terms of lost conventions, meetings and visitors in the billions of dollars. Theme parks, operating under an umbrella of safety and telling the story that it’s safe to stay at lodging establishments with recommended CDC cleaning measures in place, are driving leisure visitors, but it’s nowhere near what it once was.
The vaccine isn’t the immediate answer, it is a means to an end. Although it’s being distributed, there’s a good percentage of the population that doesn’t want to be first. Unfortunately, travel and tourism will continue to be affected until the vaccine is accepted by the traveling public.
What’s next for you?
I’ve worked 44 straight years; one item I want is to be off the clock. I want to manage my own time. That’s very important to me. I’m a native Michigander. I love an art and wine community in Michigan called Traverse City. I rented a cottage there for three weeks in the summer, on an inland lake with a boat. I can enjoy
my children coming to visit as well as some Michigan and Florida friends. That is going to be one of my thrills, just being off the clock and spending time with my loved ones.
I am also a bicyclist since 2006. I only ride once or twice a week but I’ve set a goal to ride 50-60 miles a week for the rest of my life, starting in early March by biking 10-12 miles every other day, three to four times a week. I think that would be a meaningful goal to accomplish for the rest of my life. Biking is so relaxing, as it clears the mind.
Just Who Is Rich Maladecki?
• Nearly 44 years of nonprofit executive experience.
• Earned Master’s Degree in nonprofit management
• President / CEO of the Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association for over 20 years.
• Managed 50-member Board of Directors.
• Published “Bits, Tips and Power Points,” a 180-page book of ideas and insights for nonprofit managers (5,000 copies sold).
• Board Member Visit Orlando.
• Board Member Experience Kissimmee.
• Former President of the Orange County Library Board of Trustees.
• Central Florida Boy Scouts Council Board Member.
• Former Valencia Foundation Board of Director.
• Boy Scouts of Central Florida “Silver Beaver” Awardee.
• Inducted into the Central Florida Hospitality “Hall of Fame.”
• Served on the Blue-Ribbon Task Force for Orange County Public Schools.
• Served on Orange County Sheriff’s Transitional Team.
• UCF “Commencement Speaker.”
• “Certified Association Executive” (CAE) designation, American Society of Association Executives.
• Honored as one of Orlando Magazine’s “50 Most Powerful People” for 10 years.
• Earned “Best Managed” Central Florida Trade Association by the Orlando Business Journal for 2 years.
• Taught upper-level courses in nonprofit management at the University of Central Florida.
• Taught event industry course at the UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management.
• Active member of the Dr. Phillips Rotary Club.
• Led industry coalition to increase the tourist development tax by 1%.
• Secured marketing monies for Visit Orlando to market our destination to achieve record visitation.
• Awarded over $2 million dollars in scholarships to hospitality students.
• Worked with the Freeberg Foundation to fund a full-ride hospitality scholarship.
• Launched the Adopt-A-School program, adopting 100 schools per year.
• Started CFHLA Cares, collecting food, school supplies and shoes for homeless students.
Rich has dedicated his life to making a difference in Central Florida and in the people he has had a chance to impact. No other person stands out as a change-maker like Rich. Yet, he possesses a humbleness and desire to make each person he encounters feel special. I am proud to call Rich Maladecki my friend. He even has time for someone with an occasional wardrobe malfunction.