While Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee may be what’s keeping the Western Caribbean island on people’s radar these days, boutique Rockhouse Hotel, comprised of “rough luxury” bungalows clinging to a seaside cliff on the western-most point of Negril, is another treasure worth seeking. This gem of a hotel, known for its architectural design and stunning natural setting is far from bustling Kingston and just southwest of Montego Bay. It began in 1972 as one of the first hotels in the remote area, perfect for celebrities like Bob Marley, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones to get away from it all.
In 1994 the property was purchased by Paul Salmon, leader of an investment group from Australia who, already having a strong love of Jamaica, wanted to keep the original vibe of the island and offer guests the opportunity to be local on arrival. The plan worked, and the Rockhouse was listed as the #1 hotel in Jamaica in Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards, and included on the “Gold List 2018.” The Knot also named Rockhouse at the top of their list of the Best Destination Wedding Venues in the World.
Not long after taking ownership the group soon realized that the community in which they were now living and invested was not able to fully support adequate education of its youth. Many of the hotel staff had children attending dilapidated schools within a few miles of the hotel that could barely function as buildings much less education centers, one of which didn’t even have a proper roof. They decided to use their hotel and its success to help rebuild and replenish the schools and library in the local area, and thus the Rockhouse Foundation was born.
The 501c(3) non-profit foundation has raised over $5 million over the past decade to support their goal of “transforming the places where children learn and supporting the people who teach them.” The funds have gone directly into the construction, improvement and upkeep of local public schools and libraries, as the foundation believes that children, in order to thrive as successful members of society, first need a solid foundation to allow them to thrive academically. The foundation also believes that environmental sustainability practices are another piece to that puzzle, and in 2009 established the Negril Area Green Globe Quiz, a competition where local schools compete in a game show format, with young students answering environmental and sustainability questions. The annual event has been a great success in raising environmental awareness among the children.
Rockhouse has been Green Globe certified for nearly all of the past 20 years, focusing on minimizing use of natural resources and hazardous materials, reducing CO2 emissions and constantly monitoring its environmental impact. “Being a responsible and sustainable hotel is one of our top priorities at Rockhouse, both in relation to the environment and the local community,” says Paul Salmon, Chairman of Rockhouse Hotel. “We want our guests to have a pleasurable and authentic experience during their trip to Jamaica. Respecting the environment and giving back to our community is what allows us to continue to do this.”
Heading the architectural development of Rockhouse since 1994, internationally-known architect, Jean-Henri Morin has a passion for designing high quality structures that have a positive and sustainable relationship with the environment.
Guest are not only welcomed as locals upon arrival, but also have the chance to take part in giving back as well. Wednesday night is the manager’s hosted cocktail hour where guests can learn more about the local area and the efforts of the hotel and foundation. The following day, interested guests have the opportunity to experience and participate in the various projects sponsored by the hotel. The giving doesn’t stop at check out, as many guests planning a return trip refer to the school wish list and pack some needed school supplies to donate. Others use Amazon Smile to donate 0.5% of their purchase directly to the Rockhouse Foundation.
The Rockhouse Hotel has been recognized as a benchmark for responsible tourism, having been honored with Travel + Leisure’s “Global Vision Award” for its work in community building through the Foundation.
Not only is it inspiring to see foreign business owners finding impactful ways to help their new local community, but also encouraging to see travel organizations like Travel + Leisure finding meaningful ways to recognize them. Through this recognition, travelers can research and decide how they want to spend their money, and how they want to leave their mark on the community they choose to visit.