Robert Agrusa taking helm at Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association

Agrusa will lead recovery in Florida's hardest hit tourism sector.

The Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association has selected Robert Agrusa to be its next president and CEO in February when longtime leader Richard Maladecki retires.

Agrusa most recently was president of the Apopka Area Chamber of Commerce, a post he took in 2017. Before that he served as president of BusinessForce, the political arm of the Orlando Economic Partnership, and before that he had been an aide to Sen. Andy Gardiner.

Now Agrusa will be overseeing one of the most prominent and powerful business voices in Central Florida, at a critical time, as the hospitality industry seeks to climb its way out of the COVID-19 recession.

The association’s membership operates nearly 80% of the more than 125,500 hotel rooms in Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties and includes nearly 500 supplier organizations doing business with the hospitality and tourism industries.

In selecting Agrusa, the CFHLA board cited his strong relationships with federal, state, and local elected officials as well as with civic, business and nonprofit leaders. It also noted the significant growth of the Apopka chamber under his leadership.

“Robert is the right leader, at the right time for the association,” Jesse Martinez, CFHLA board chairman, stated in a news release. “CFHLA is on the forefront of one of the most challenging and exciting times in tourism and we are thrilled that Robert will be leading us here in Central Florida. His extensive experience in the public and private sectors will play a key role as the industry restores and evolves in the short and long term future.”

Maladecki has been the association’s president for 23 years. He oversaw dramatic expansions of the the region’s tourism and hospitality industries, particularly along the International Drive corridor, the heart of the association’s membership.

That tenure has seen the industry through rough times in three periods. Yet the region’s hospitality industry bounced back and reached new levels of growth and prosperity after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, and again after the Great Recession that began in 2008 and ran for a couple of years.

The coronavirus crisis has hit the industry even harder since the pandemic began shutting things down and scaring away travelers in March 2020. As measured by tourist development tax proceeds, the hospitality industry collapsed by 97% in April. Even with everything reopened, it still was off by 60% in October.

This time Agrusa will be asked to oversee the recovery.

“For decades, CFHLA has been a true regional powerhouse, being at the forefront of our community’s growth into the world’s leading destination for vacations, conventions and business meetings,” Agrusa said. “It’s an honor to take on the leadership of CFHLA and have the opportunity to work with the best and brightest in Florida’s hospitality industry, particularly at this time where our tourism economy in central Florida is so fragile. I am excited with the prospect of working hard to return consumer confidence and jobs back to the industry, understanding that tomorrow will be as bright as yesterday.”

“It is difficult to lose Robert at the Apopka Area Chamber of Commerce simply because of the success he’s had in growing the organization and putting in the framework for a true change in our operations and mission,” Tim Clark, chairman, Apopka Area Chamber of Commerce said. “Our board will be working hard to find someone who can continue leading the Apopka area in economic development, political influence and business growth like Robert has over these past four years.”

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected].


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