Regional

Henzell takes over Lovers' Leap

St Elizabeth hotelier has big plans for popular attraction

BY GARFIELD MYERS
Editor at Large
South Central Bureau

Monday, December 04, 2017



Southfield , St Elizabeth — His tireless, creative efforts have catapulted Jakes Hotel and Jack Sprat Restaurant and Bar to worldwide fame.

Now Treasure Beach entrepreneur Jason Henzell has his sights set on transforming the historic, romance-linked Lovers' Leap attraction, perched on the edge of a 1700-foot cliff in the remote farming village of Yardley Chase, at the south eastern tip of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Henzell, through Jakes, received a license from the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCO) on November 1 to operate the attraction which is coloured by a centuries-old tale of enslaved lovers. Legend has it that the couple leapt to their death from the cliff's edge rather than be separated.

The licensing arrangement — embracing restaurant, bar, entertainment, tours, and nature hike — will be renewable every five years, subject to conditions.

When the Jamaica Observer Central visited recently, Henzell's mark was already noticeable with distinctive food and beverage being served by smiling, engaging staff in the Lovers' Leap Bar and Restaurant. From its balcony and grounds, the facility commands a dizzying, unforgettable view of the St Elizabeth and south Manchester coastline.

True to form, Henzell was busy planning for a grand opening, come the end of January.

As it is, the restaurant and bar is open to visitors every day against a backdrop of light music. The previous practice of charging an entrance fee has been scrapped.

Ongoing upgrading work involves renovations to the structure of the building, electrical improvements and landscaping.

“We are going to be doing further work going into the middle of next year with other phases of the development to come,” he explained.

By the end of January, Henzell expects to have “an enhanced” menu and bar. An appropriate logo is being created which will decorate road signs, brochures, and the Lovers' Leap website. Limited accommodation, starting with a single flat, is being developed and there will be guided tours of the Lovers' Leap lighthouse.

Further along, there will be zip line adventure tours and a hike lasting several hours along a nature trial from Lover's Leap to the sea and back. The trail is already in place. It was developed by TPDCO through 425 acres of steeply sloping forestry reserve, punctuated by two gazebos. Residents of Yardley Chase have been employed as guides for those wishing to take the trail.

“We really want to attract nature lovers,” said Henzell.

Always innovative, Henzell is “thinking of bees” and “a Lovers' Leap line of honey” which he believes would fit into the concept of a forestry reserve and “low” environmental impact. He even dreams of situations “when the weather permits” that would allow visitors to hike down to the sea at Cutlass Bay and take boat rides to Treasure Beach.

Lovers' Leap has always been a favoured place for wedding ceremonies and photo shoots. Now, Henzell plans to take it to a whole new level in that regard.

“We are looking at enhancing the wedding business by putting in a multi-media system, a screen with an overhead projector and things like that,” he said.

Son of Perry Henzell, creator of the epic 1972 movie The Harder They Come, Henzell always has an eye for entertainment and his dreams for Lovers Leap include Karioki nights, reggae concerts spiced with food and rum, band music, jazz, country & western and church choirs on Sunday evenings.

“We want to be able to bring the family here in a safe, clean environment… you can come with your children knowing that the musical lyrics will be wholesome and clean,” he said.

Also, Henzell says he is very well aware that “people will travel for food” but not to the same restaurant all the time. So he visualizes linkups with other restaurants and bars in St Elizabeth and southern Manchester including Little Ochi in Alligator Pond, Floyd's Pelican Bar in Parottee Bay off Black River, and the Appleton Rum Tour close to Siloah in northern St Elizabeth.

Crucially, Henzell says, under his watch, he isn't seeking to develop Lovers' Leap as a copy of his other successes in Treasure Beach. He is keen for it to keep its own identity.

First of all, he pointed out, the attraction has “tremendous” name recognition and its own unique presence in Jamaican history and culture. “If you say to someone in Portland have you heard of Jakes or Jack Sprat they may say 'no' but if you say 'have you heard of Lovers Leap?' they going to say 'yes' … and that's something we feel we have to build on,” he said.

Students and others with a strong interest in Jamaican history and culture including returned and returning residents, their children and grand children abroad, are among those Henzell expects to lure to Lovers' Leap alongside locals and foreign visitors.

“I always believe that on the south coast what's unique is community tourism, so when you look at Jack Sprat for instance: its visitors and locals. It's a melting pot … and if you go after the local business first, the foreigners will come because the foreigners want to feel like a local,” he said.

He is also keen that local farmers benefit from development of the Lovers Leap attraction and that St Elizabeth's “bread basket” image is always to the fore in the parish's visitor industry, consistent with the community tourism concept.

Henzell is well aware that previous lease arrangements with private operators have failed at Lovers' Leap, forcing TPDCO to take a hands-on management of the attraction back in 2012. He is confident that his team's knowledge of the hospitality business and their willingness to learn will ensure this latest venture succeeds.

Among his current initiatives is to build partnerships which will bring tour operators to Lovers' Leap.

“It would be harsh of me to judge why other people have not done well. I believe that we will do well,” Henzell said.

“I feel like we have a committed team. We know the food and beverage business, we know how to fix up and transform a product and we also know what we don't know. We don't know the tour business. So we are seeking some external guidance and consultancy as it relates to how to package it and invite tour operators to look at Lovers' Leap again, because there is a lot of good will out there,” he said.

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