The Serious Business of Vacationing

Lino Maldonado, vice president of ResortQuest, has lived in Northwest Florida for more than 25 years, and he still can’t get enough. By David Demarest
The Serious Business of VacationingLino Maldonado works to bring visitors to the Gulf CoastBy David Demarest
Lino Maldonado has lived in Northwest Florida for more than 25 years, and he still can’t get enough. As vice president of ResortQuest, one of the nation’s leading vacation rental and resort real estate companies, Maldonado’s territory extends from Gulf Shores, Miss., to the east side of Panama City. But on a recent vacation, Maldonado and his family did what he’s been encouraging visitors to do for years: “We just enjoyed the beautiful area and all the things that we (locals) take for granted every day.”

With vacation time now over, Maldonado is getting down to the serious business of ResortQuest and imagining what the future might hold for the Emerald Coast. He spoke recently with our 850 Magazine writer on these and other issues.

850: What do you see as the short-term and long-term opportunities and challenges for Northwest Florida?

emerald-maldonado.jpgLM: One of our biggest short-term challenges will be staying ahead of the current economic slowdown and convincing people to still take their vacations. Probably our biggest long-term opportunity is going to be working with our three regional airports. Currently only about 6 percent of our business comes via the airlines, so there’s a huge opportunity to grow that number.

850: What are the critical issues for this region that will appear over the next five to 10 years?

LM: The success of all of our airports. The international airport at Bay County is certainly something that we’re excited about, and something that I think will change the landscape of our area significantly over the next few years. But it’s critical that we work with each airport to increase the traffic through them.

850: What are some of the dangers for the area – things not to do that are on the horizon?

LM: It will be critical to manage our growth carefully, so we don’t have a negative impact on our existing client base. There’s been a lot of construction over the past couple of years, and there aren’t enough guests yet to fill those rooms. I think we’ll get there, and I’m excited about the Panama City market, but in roughly three-and-a-half years they built the number of units that Destin built over 20 years. So growth is certainly something to be very, very careful with.

850: What advice would you give to young people who are starting out in a business or career?

LM: Foremost: Choose something that you have a passion for. The best employees are the ones who truly love what they do. It has to be more than just a job to pay the bills. You continually have to re-evaluate decisions as to how they’re impacting (your employees, your clients, and your company). The minute you think you’re doing something perfectly is the time that you’re the most vulnerable, from a competitive standpoint.

850: Do you think that the basic challenges of starting a business today are that different from those faced 10 to 15 years ago?

LM: I think you have greater opportunity today. The company I currently run has been built over a 30-year period. With the advent of the Internet and the opportunities to market to the masses at the same level that we do, people can get into the business and be out there with a Web site that looks and feels and acts like a major competitor and only manages three units. A good Web site can put you up there with the big boys.

850: With the experiences you’ve had, would you stay in the hospitality business or would you take advantage of the changes and take a different path?

LM: I would certainly be in the hospitality industry. I really enjoy the fresh challenges of each day. So I certainly would be doing something with the public in the vacation and real estate business. We get paid to go to the beach every day – what do we have to complain about?

850: How would you describe your management style?

LM: If I had to sum it up into one word, I’d say “flexible.” The reason for that is that no two personalities are alike, and every situation requires a different approach.

850: How have you taught your children the value of a dollar?

LM: We really keep them focused with the good old-fashioned chore chart that we all had as kids, and we’ve tried to instill a sense of independence in them at an early age with things like lemonade stands and pet-sitting services for the neighbors, to help them gain the confidence of being on their own, as far as owning their own business.

850: How do you give back to the community?

LM: I believe that your priorities ought to be God, family and work. And I like to keep them in that order. It’s important to keep each in proper balance. We give to our church, which I think helps add to the morality of the community, and gives us a solid foundation and base to work from. We give to charitable organizations, not only financially but also in a volunteer capacity. And that’s to help our neighbors. I sit on several different boards, helping bring opportunities to our area, and I’m also on the boards of several charity events.