Paul Salmon, hotelier and restaurateur, is championing a new brand of Jamaican cool.
Words by Natasha Were. Photography by Michael Condran and Corey Hamilton.
The owner of legendary Negril getaway the Rockhouse Hotel, and managing partner in the growing international chain of Miss Lily’s Caribbean restaurants, Paul Salmon’s diverse businesses celebrate the best of Jamaica, its people and its culture.
Both at home and abroad, Salmon’s businesses embody the bright colours, vibrant flavours and lively sounds of Jamaica. For those able to travel to the island, the Rockhouse Hotel offers plenty of sun, fun and rum, alongside a programme of activities that offer genuine cultural experiences. For those who can’t, Jamaica goes to them. Miss Lily’s, now present in Soho and the East Village in New York, and at the Sheraton in Dubai, serves up a virtual experience of Jamaica: cheerful vibes, tasty jerk treats and fresh organic juices recreate that vacation feeling, in the middle of busy city centres.
Championing Jamaica’s food, music and people was not Salmon’s Plan A, however. Born and raised in Australia, Salmon’s goal was to work as a Wall Street trader in New York. And that he did, until he went on vacation to Jamaica…
“As a youngster and cricket fan, I grew up in an era when the West Indies team dominated the world competition so I had always been interested in travelling there,” he says. “But it wasn’t until ’89 or ’90 that I first went there with friends. We spent several weeks travelling around the island by bus and got to meet so many people,” he recalls. “It was a tropical paradise, of course, and the natural beauty was breathtaking, but it was the people that really captivated me: their vibrancy, positivity and zest for life.”
So when, in 1994, the opportunity arose to invest in a hotel there, he felt the timing was right. “The boutique hotel wave was gathering momentum at the time. The emphasis on great design, personal service and creating connections to the local environment were something that got me really excited – and I think it’s critical to follow one’s passions,” he says.
Perched on a low cliff at the western end of Negril, with steps carved from the rock leading down to a serene bay, the Rockhouse’s location is idyllic. In the first year, the new owners renovated all the rooms, added a cliff-top pool and an upscale restaurant and, in subsequent years, adjoining properties were acquired, bringing the total room number to 34 and adding a world-class spa, fitness centre and boutique.
Despite having all the trappings of a luxury hotel, it has none of the pretence. “One of our goals has always been to have a place that is fun to visit and is affordable and inclusive,” Salmon explains. “We have a broad mix of guests including great representation from the music, arts and media industries.”
Hip and upbeat, it appeals to a young and young-at-heart clientele seeking a more meaningful travel experience. What Salmon really strives for at the Rockhouse, he says, is to create a business that has soul. And this he achieves through a variety of social and environmental programmes.
The resort is Green Globe certified, for instance, and thus minimises use of natural resources and negative impact on the environment; it also has its own organic farm, an on-site woodworking shop that produces much of the hotel’s furniture, and it organises an annual Green Globe Quiz designed to raise environmental awareness among local students.
For guests, in addition to the traditional Caribbean vacation activities, they can also join drumming, cooking and dance classes, and can visit and help out on projects sponsored by the Rockhouse Foundation, the charitable arm of the hotel.
Set up in 2004, the foundation is another facet of Salmon’s commitment to creating an ethically sound, sustainable business.
Since its inception the foundation has raised over US$3.5 million, which it has invested in transforming and upgrading five local schools, and in renovating and expanding the Negril Community Library.
“We looked at the needs of the community and education – especially early childhood education – was an area that struggled in terms of facilities, so it seemed a natural place to start,” he says.“Kids are the future so helping them is a positive idea that everybody can get behind.” The difference that he has been able to make to the lives of local people, he says, is the achievement of which he is most proud.
From downtown restaurants to a boutique hotel and an educational charity, Salmon’s various endeavours don’t just have Jamaica in common – they are also all shaped by a drive to create positive impacts. As he puts it, it’s about “giving our guests an amazing boutique hotel vacation, making our awesome Jamaican team partners in our success, taking care of the environment, and giving back to our community.” In other words, a win-win situation all round. And that’s irie.
PAUL'S JAMAICA MUST-DO'S
Place to eat? Scotchie’s in Montego Bay.
Favourite beach? Negril Beach.
Don't miss? Live music!
Never travel without? A sense of humour and an open attitude.
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