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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, May 26, 2024
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@Work: Vacation Vistas

Nov. 18, 2004 – Lisa Durgin parlayed a job with Maho Bay Camps four-hour work program into a booming vacation villa management business, Vacation Vistas.
"I came here as a tourist looking for a job," the Kennebunk, Maine, native said.
Durgin, a University of Hartford graduate with a bachelor's degree in psychology, and two of her college friends arrived on St. John in 1981. After a year at Maho Bay, where she worked four hours a day in exchange for a bed in a tent, she moved on to a seven-year stint at the Canvas Factory, a Mongoose Junction store.
When the owners decided they no longer needed a manager, she was faced with a dilemma.
"I needed to find a career, and I had no capital," she said.
Durgin, now 46, was in the right place at the right time. St. John's vacation villa market was starting to grow, opening a villa management company took only determination and Durgin had heard of a house that needed a manager. Within a year, she had six houses.
"I did all the cleaning and as much maintenance as I could," she said
However, in those days, the houses weren't nearly as luxurious as they are today. They had no air-conditioning, no pools, they were all open air, and they rented for $700 a week in the winter season.
Today, Durgin has 14 houses that rent in the $4,200 to $10,000 range during the winter season. All now have pools and hot tubs. She's given up cleaning houses, instead contracting with five house cleaners, gardeners and maintenance people to keep the villas up to snuff.
Durgin likes the variety her job brings. No two days are exactly the same, although some come with major frustrations. The biggest is caused by variables in the transportation system. Planes are late, luggage is delayed and it takes more time than anticipated for taxi drivers to drive the guests to the ferry dock. Durgin, like most of her villa management colleagues, meets her guests at the Cruz Bay dock, which means she sometimes has a long wait.
"But my goal is that when somebody shows up at the dock, they think all I had to do all day was meet them," she said.
She said her guests are in the price category that attracts people accustomed to vacationing, but understand that Caribbean trips can come with some glitches. She counts the recent spate of rainy weather among them.
Most understand that renting a vacation villa gives them a house in a neighborhood without someone to wait on them hand and foot, but some seem to think otherwise.
"Some of my worst guests have stayed at Caneel first. They never 'get' the island," Durgin said, referring to the pampering provided at Caneel Bay Resort.
Durgin gets St. John. After more than two decades, she still enjoys the beaches, the rainbows that pop up along the north shore after a rain shower and her friends.
She and her life partner, Cinnamon Bay motor yacht owner Bob Conn, invite friends on board in the days before Christmas to go caroling from bay to bay.
But the job takes its toll. Durgin said she's not sure she can do this for 10 more years.
"It's 24/7," she said.
And then?
She likes singing and cooking, and would like to learn how to throw pots.
She and Conn bought a house about an hour outside of Reno, Nevada, which is now in the vacation villa rental market. That beckons, but so do lots of other options.
"I'll do something else," she vowed.

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