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Meet Carmela Lizzo of Camelback Adventures in Scottsdale

Today we’d like to introduce you to Carmela Lizzo.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Carmela. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I started 35 years ago as the Easter bunny for the kid’s program at the JW Marriott Camelback Inn! From there, I worked at the “Social Desk” handling concierge services until I moved to the AZ Biltmore, where my co-worker and I became partners in our Destination Management Company (at that time, we were merely a “Tour Operator”). We were then contracted back by the JW Marriott as their in-house DMC and enjoyed a wonderful partnership for over 24 years. When my partner retired, Camelback Adventures then expanded into several other Marriotts and the Ritz-Carlton and moved into the Marriott Regional Office before their move to CA. I relocated in North Scottsdale and now enjoy a wide variety of clients, working closely with the Scottsdale and Phoenix CVB’s as well as local offices and national corporate clients. It’s an amazing business, constantly evolving – every day is different and the variety and scope of what we do continually challenges us to always be one step ahead of whatever is happening at the moment.

Has it been a smooth road?
Of course not! It’s the event planning business – what could go wrong?
Our first year (back in the 80’s before cell phones), we had an airport pickup for the Sisters of Charity along with a Dine-Around with 12 coaches (at 12 restaurants), and a full-blown circus, complete with elephant, all in the same evening. The airport bus broke down in the “red light” district of Phoenix and 40 nuns in their habits were standing on the same corner with some “ladies of the evening”. One of the coaches got stuck pulling out of the parking lot at the hotel and NONE of the buses could move for over 40 minutes, delaying the restaurant reservations. Of course, since we had no cell phones, we had to keep running from place to place calling each restaurant at a payphone along the way, Meanwhile, the elephant, who was coming in from LA and was the highlight of the circus, was nowhere to be found. The dog act ran away, the MC ended up playing the kazoo to stall the rest of the acts and the meeting planner and the convention services manager got in a fistfight. Seriously. I remember sitting at Denny’s at 2 a.m. wondering what we would be doing this time next year.

Someone told me a long time ago – “the secret to success is knowing the difference between a lump in your oatmeal, a lump in your throat and a lump in your breast” – 99% of what we do is just oatmeal. I tell that to my staff all the time and it helps keep things in perspective.

Tell us more about the business.
As a Destination Management Company, our focus is on corporate group meetings and local offices here in Scottsdale and Phoenix. We offer transportation, team building events, activities and tours, offsite dinners, theme parties, entertainment and décor and meeting planning assistance. We’re local to AZ only – you won’t find us nationally or as a franchise – we’re the hometown team, and we excel at specializing exclusively in the Valley of the Sun. We’ve been around for 35 years, we live here, we work here and we’re excited to show you what our city has to offer. I think I’m most proud of our stellar reputation and our longevity in the Valley. We so thoroughly enjoy what we do, we completely embrace and experience the best of our wonderful destination and we love sharing it with our clients.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
That’s the big question, isn’t it? The days of huge budgets (back in the 90’s) are far and few between. The advent of google and the internet makes our job harder to justify to a meeting planner who has so many resources at his/her fingertips. We hope that our local knowledge, our vast resources, our years of experience in this market and our ability to save planners valuable time, helps to ensure a successful program. I think DMC’s need to focus on the value they bring to the client. Being more creative, more resourceful and more helpful in fulfilling the needs of their clients will help keep us relevant in the years to come.

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