Both of their families were vacationing at separate homes in Brusino, a municipality in the canton of Ticino on Lake Lugano in Southern Switzerland, about a mile from the Italian border.
“Our families vacationed together year after year and all of us became close friends,” Monika recalled.
The Leuenbergers are both Swiss natives, Monika from a small town outside Zurich, and Yves from Basel. When she was 20, Monika moved to the United States and settled in Flagstaff, attracted to the alpine ambiance of the San Francisco Peaks.
In 1993, she started a travel agency, Avenues of the World, having already developed a passion for travel while working for Air Malta in Switzerland.
“Yves and his family always stayed in touch with me through the years and visited me many times,” Monika said. “On one of these visits, the sparks started flying! We got married 20 years ago, and Yves started working in the business along my side.”
After 19 years on Fourth Street, and four years in the Park Santa Fe Shopping Center, the business has recently moved into a new 2,300-square-foot building on East Cedar Avenue at Grandview Drive.
“It’s a nice size, because we had 1,800 square feet before,” Monika said. “Now, everyone has their own office.”
Friends, family and travel devotees attended the Avenues of the World Grand Opening Celebration on Saturday, Aug. 26, at the new venue. It featured a ribbon-cutting ceremony, plentiful champagne and a variety of appetizers, colorful balloons and music.
“We’re happy and proud,” Monika told attendees right after the ribbon cutting. “We were really excited about this location. We’ve already had people come in and say, ‘Oh we have a travel agency here?’ After being here 24 years, they didn’t know. Without Flagstaff and the community, we wouldn’t be here.”
Her spacious new office is at the front of the agency where a small conference table is covered with gorgeous travel brochures showing the pleasures of Switzerland.
“My office is all about Switzerland and Africa,” Monika said. “Switzerland is where I’m from, so it’s my favorite destination.”
Her husband’s office is in the rear of the building near the outdoor seating area.
“I look after the books, marketing and staff, rather than doing any sales,” Yves explained.
Monika noted that the agency has a “Really cool team; we love what we do.”
Current staff members, all travel consultants who each have a specialty, include Monika and Yves, Daniela Harrison (Europe, Africa, South Pacific, small ships, luxury cruises and river cruises), Eleanor Onsae Masayumptewa (Asia and some parts of Europe like Ireland and Scotland) and Alexis Lee (Germany, Australia and New Zealand).
“And of course, Monika does everywhere,” Masayumptewa observed.
The newest staff member is Oliva Poindexter.
Also, Joe Levesque, who started the company with Monika and his wife, Connie Levesque, still comes in to work in his office at the agency.
“We all help each other,” Masayumptewa said.
Previous enterprises in the Cedar Avenue building included a doctor’s office, insurance company and a therapy facility.
SR Overton Construction of Flagstaff did the buildout, which took about two months.
“It was a cosmetic uplift,” explained Scott Overton, owner of the construction company. “The bones were here.”
Some of the components of the remodel included new lighting and cabinetry, painting with a pleasant color – Lapdog – and a 10-foot alligator-juniper wood conference table, built by Overton who does woodworking as a passion.
Business is booming.
Harrison was born in Dusseldorf, in the Rhine Valley of Germany. She became a U.S. citizen on July 4 this year, and has been with the agency for seven years.
Harrison is busy booking a small ship luxury cruise of the Cook and Society islands for November 2018, to include popular stopovers such as Papeete, Moorea, and Bora Bora.
Harrison said each travel consultant at the agency takes an extended trip each quarter to inspect ships, hotel, restaurants and other sites featured in their travel packages.
Avenues of the World is organizing its fourth annual Northern Arizona Travel Expo on Oct. 18, at the DoubleTree by Hilton on Route 66.
Avenues of the World is located at 2100 E. Cedar Ave. For more information, call 928-556-0853. FBN
By Betsey Bruner, FBN
Chamber Ambassadors at the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce, pictured on far left, Skyla Savitch and Marissa Griffin, and far right, Annette Fallaha, attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony. From left, cutting ribbon, Monika Leuenberger, Yves Leuenberger, Alexis Lee, Eleanor Onsae Masayumptewa, Daniela Harrison, Olivia Poindexter, and Connie and Joe Levesque.
Photo by Betsey Bruner