Maria Salazar

Maria Salazar, President and Founder of Dream Exotic Rentals.

MailPound: Congratulations on celebrating 18 years! What inspired you to start Dream Exotic Rentals?

Maria: That’s a very unique question because it didn’t come into focus in one shot. I had left home at 18, striking out on my own to find my place in the world. The small town I grew up in didn’t afford me any opportunities and college seemed a thing for the very affluent or the very intelligent. I was neither a brilliant student nor someone with unlimited resources, however I had many qualities my classmates didn’t have which did come from a mother who taught me that independence didn’t come with an age, it came with experience. Growing up with limited resources gives you a different view on life; things are crystal clear and brutally honest. If you’ve never experienced life this way it’s difficult to image it. It’s difficult to imagine your daughter of 5 walking to and from school or even babysitting her siblings. Yet I was doing just that which gave me a push into adulthood and made me feel responsible for others at a very young age. What that also gave me was ambition and knowledge. I knew that if I didn’t do certain things that I wouldn’t ever make it out and so grew my hope for college and getting out on my own. The bottom line is life has a symphony of things it can hand you and within that symphony you find your song and that song will guide you, note after note, day after day.

When I finally did get out and moved 2,000 miles South to Miami Florida, it was really because college was much more affordable and they also were more apt to qualify me even with my lower GPA. I desired knowledge and wanted to learn and so began that educational journey. It took me a bit longer to get a degree because I had to work and go to school but it’s within those jobs that my passions emerged, where creativity met my entrepreneurial desires. My jobs included working for a luxury yacht chartering company then for a luxury car rental company, interning at a magazine in South Beach and then writing and working for a small startup magazine in Miami. These were all things that would lead me to notice the growing trends within industries. Those trends were something I took note of and felt would be a good place for me to start my own venture.

By the time I was ready to make that move to start my own business it dawned on me that I needed a business plan and guidance. So I did what most people would do and had a business plan drawn up and started to go from bank to bank looking for startup capital. Yet, to my dismay, tearful as it was and heart wrenching as it was to hear doors slamming in your face, it was the idea that most didn’t even want to see my proposal. Most of the interviewers didn’t even allot me time to explain the venture and just stared at me as if my being a young woman was a “sudden death,” for business startups. I know at this point most people would have thrown in the towel but I didn’t. My mother didn’t raise a young lady she raised a fighter and fight I did. I told myself to stop crying and start working. So work is what I did, 12 hours to 14 hours a day until I would just fall in bed drained and tired. I used my credit cards to pay for supplies and for office space and for materials I needed, so “Thank you American Express” for being my first Business Credit Card. I used my own inner strength to drive me and it wasn’t easy but we made it.

Combining my knowledge of all of the things I learned I developed a brand about “people and experiences.” I would personally check people in and personally deal with their issues. If they needed a house cleaned I would clean it. If they needed food I would buy it. I didn’t have any problems or shame about what I was doing because I knew in the end it was my dream that would be on the line, that dream of having a Luxury Vacation Rental company that focused on clients’ dreams. Hence the website “Dream Exotic Rentals,” and our motto here is the “client experience.”
This is of course the condensed version of what I went through to launch this type of business but make no mistake I was one of the first and when some of these other companies came after me, the often times called me for my input, which I then gave freely not knowing how valuable my ideas really were. Being naïve in an industry that was at the time new can be daunting but I have survived my 18 years proudly.

MailPound: Is there a specific property or experience stands out for you?

Maria: I love this question because it’s more than just the property for me, it’s also the owner. If I had to say one property stands out or an experience stands out it would be very specifically this one client’s birthday in France, where I was asked to put a 40th Birthday together that would stand out. It was one of my most challenging experiences but it defined something inside of me, it made me realize I had underestimated myself. The entire Castle Masquerade Ball was inspired by the idea of the old Medieval Balls and their mythical appeal. I had private cars transport the group of almost 40 to the Castle, upon arrival they were met with Trumpets and Knights in Shining Armor. They were met by our in-house host Pamela and they were treated to the most lavished week of festivities they had ever had. From private tables at the best restaurants to pool parties, balloon rides, day trips to Paris and an amazing Dungeon DJ party that made a night club look boring. The birthday festivities included crowns and gowns and masks and fireworks, it was just beyond words. To say it went off brilliantly is the understatement but it did and I was so proud of everyone who made it possible. They took my vision and created perfection.

MailPound: What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing travel professionals today?

Maria: I think the biggest challenge of any Travel Professional is the internet. You have so much misinformation about who is really a supplier and who is just another travel agent trying to be both supplier and agency. The agencies have to fight to find who to work with and then they don’t understand that homes online are not all the same. So they go from one place to another in search of someone and wasting valuable time, most get frustrated and just book hotels. Others will find vendors that they assume are on the up and up and the come to find they are working from a home office with no licensing no insurance and use 3rd party listing sites to get their homes. It’s all frustrating and I understand it. Every year we sift through thousands of home owners, thousands of managers, to weed out the bad and good. There are so many bad right now because different countries are not regulating their homes and owners. There are people not qualified to manage homes managing them, while others are not licensed rentals. So I would say that the internet and inability to know what is really going on in the industry is the hardest part for agencies.

MailPound: How do you maintain your daily motivation and inspiration despite obstacles or setbacks?

Maria: My daily inspiration are my wonderful rescues for animals, my family who keep me going because they need me to be the strong one and my amazing family of employees and clients. The setbacks are immense, even tearful at times. The idea that only 2.5% of all venture capital goes to women owned businesses is deflating. The idea that women in business fail almost 75% of the time is heart breaking. Yet I continue on because I know that my employees need their jobs and security. I may feel defeated at times and trying to beg travel agencies to give us a chance feels almost painful but I do it every day. I want the people I care about to have a better life, I want the animals I care for to survive and thrive and I want to be proud that as a woman in this industry I have always worked with my heart and have always given 1000% to everything I do. At the end of the day even if it’s not enough, if the internet and fads take over and real companies like ours lose out, it’s not for lack of passion or trying. I will always fight with all I have.

MailPound: In the classic saying, “I wish I knew what I know now, when I was younger,” what are some things that you wish you had known ahead of time?

Maria: I wish I hadn’t shared my insights, my knowledge, and my vision as it meant that I created companies that went onto to make millions and millions of dollars. I spent far too much time regretting that but now I just embrace that time and know that I will never make that mistake again. However, let it not go unnoticed that I was one of the first in this industry and as a woman I am proud of that fact.

MailPound: What are some fun facts about yourself?

Maria: I don’t take myself too seriously and like to joke and be a little bit of a practical joker. I once put a stuffed bob cat into my employee’s office under his desk so that when he pulled out his chair he would see the cat and be scared. Of course he was, but those are things that make working in a family oriented office fun. I also like to write & sing. I’ve been singing and writing since I was a small child and it’s always been an outlet. Last but not least I love rescuing pit bulls from bad situations. I think the dogs are misunderstood and put into horrible situations that shape them. I believe that if we were to ban breeding and have stricture animal abuse laws in this country that all animals would benefit. I’m a huge animal advocate and I feel it’s important to take care of this world and its creatures. How can anyone look into the face of a helpless animal and not want to help. So in my free time I rescue birds or small animals and I have 4 of my own amazing dogs.

I hope one day I’m able to leave something good behind and that my life meant something more. I hope that I add value to this world and that I leave it better for having lived. When I do retire at some point I want to devote the rest of my life to saving animals and making their lives better.