St. John Vacation Rental Owner Shares Story of Resilience on Travel Show

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The Vacation Rental Show host Matt Landau explores how vacation rentals are changing the world; Karla Gustafson introduced him to a community born anew after tragedy

Karla and Chef Shiabu at Tropical Blessings

"More than one person said to me, ‘as long as you have a roof we don’t need anything else."

Nearly two years after the island of St. John was devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Category 5 storms that touched down within two weeks of each other, Love City vacation rental owner Karla Gustafson celebrates the city that emerged from the storms. When Matt Landau, host of The Vacation Rental Show, chose to film the fourth episode of his web series on the island and at her rental, Gustafson opened his eyes to a story of resilience—from tropical flowers back in full bloom to a 4,000-person community that’s closer than ever before.

“I wasn’t on the island for Hurricanes Irma or Maria. There were horrific photos of the damage on TV and in newspapers but I couldn’t reach anyone on St. John. Power was down, cable was down, Wi-Fi was down, and phones were down. I finally received a text from a friend: ‘house gone.’” said Gustafson. “What do you do when something like that happens? You pack up a box of clothes, some solar lights, a battery radio, and ship that box to a friend. You do whatever you can to help out.”

Gustafson, who now resides part-time in the Maine but was a full-time resident of Love City for over 10 years, gravitated to the island because of its natural beauty and sense of camaraderie—so much so that she quit her job to move there after her first time visiting. Her vacation home, Tropical Blessings, is her way to share her appreciation of the island with guests from across the world.

“It was very tough to cancel all vacation rentals. More than one person said to me, ‘as long as you have a roof we don’t need anything else.’” said Gustafson. “People from everywhere wanted to help St. John. Some sounded almost ready to pack a chainsaw in their luggage. I was so touched by how much people cared.”

The island welcomes visitors again—who are returning enthusiastically—and Tropical Blessings is available for rent. As portrayed on The Vacation Rental Show, Gustafson’s love of the island, deep personal connections to its community, and warm approach offer travelers the chance to experience the Love City that exists beyond the borders of the large resorts—the most well-known of which still remains shuttered.

“Great destinations, not unlike great people, go through ups and downs,” said Landau in the fourth episode of his web series. “When I got the call that the island was open for visitors again, I started to wonder: what’s it like to vacation somewhere that could really use your help?”

A show that explores the emerging world of vacation rental rentals and seeks to change the way people travel, The Vacation Rental Show combines the feel of premium television with the immediacy and versatility offered by modern digital distribution. Season 2 launched in March.

Throughout the filming of the St. John episode of the show, Gustafson introduced Landau to friends and neighbors, including boat captains, an underwater photographer, and Abby Hendricks, a community organizer who rallied residents behind recovery efforts. At the conclusion of filming, Landau and Gustafson hosted a community dinner and dance party at Tropical Blessings, prepared by island chef Shaibu Abdulai.

“Karla is the quintessential vacation rental pioneer: quirky, visionary and committed to doing things her way,” said Landau. “She was the connector beneath each and every experience we had, person we met, and memory we made.”

Tropical Blessings is a Caribbean-themed luxury vacation villa just off the shores of Frank and Turner Bays. For more information, visit The Vacation Rental Show is a travel web series dedicated to showcasing the magic of the vacation rental movement. Watch the St. John episode and more on the Vacation Rental Show channel on YouTube.

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