Robert Payet, the Seychellois owner of the 5-star hotel Le Duc de Praslin Hotel & Villas won the Entrepreneur of the Year award for 2023 at the Business Awards ceremony organised by the Seychelles Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) on December 2.
Le Duc de Praslin also won the award for Best Large Tourism Establishment, for which the 50-year-old hotelier attributes his success to innovation and hard work.
Payet has also announced after the disasters that hit Seychelles on Wednesday and Thursday that Le Duc de Praslin will be donating SCR 150,000 ($11,800) towards relief efforts for the affected communities.
SNA spoke to Payet to learn more about his future plans.
SNA: You are the winner of this year’s Entrepreneur of the Year award, were you expecting to win?
RP: I’ve always believed that at some point in my life, I would win an award. Everyone in my life has always told me I deserve an award, especially with what I have accomplished. As an individual, not a company, one guy doing all this work.
SNA: Why did you decide to join the tourism industry?
RP: I was born in the tourism industry. My parents had a small guest house that they were renting on Mahe and I was very involved in the operation when I was young. My parents were very hard-working and they taught me.
Unfortunately, the owner of the guest house my parents were renting did not want to sell it to us so we moved to Praslin. I was 15 years old at the time. In the following years, I completed my training in hospitality in Singapore and came back in 1995 to work at the hotel.
|Le Duc de Praslin also won the award for Best Large Tourism Establishment. (Robert Payet) Photo License: All Rights Reserved
SNA: You’ve been in this industry for several years now and after COVID-19, what are your thoughts on the tourism industry currently?
RP: COVID taught us a lot of things and I believe that in the long term, it was good for me. Yes, it affected me short term and it will take a few more years to recoup all we have lost due to the pandemic. However, especially regarding my long-term plans and future projects I’ve been able to rethink and adapt better to be more cost effective. I’ve learned lessons from COVID and it made us more resilient and strong.
SNA: How did you adapt despite COVID-19?
RP: COVID enabled Le Duc to become more well-known, especially in the local market. I think Le Duc was instrumental in making people realise the potential of appealing to locals for stay-cations. We didn’t make money during the pandemic but this was how we stayed alive.
SNA: Do you think there is enough diversification in the tourism industry at the moment?
RP: Of course not. That’s why I’ve always said that we have to cater to the new generation of clients coming, we have to think about what Seychelles is lacking. Our competitors are offering experience holidays. Yes, we may have the best beaches in the world and amazing weather, but a lot of our hotels are getting old, they are complacent and not innovating or adapting to new trends.
They only want to sell rooms. I have to say that some hotels are doing their best and I’m also happy to see new hotels opening. We need to step up, to provide an experience, especially to the new generation as they are the ones travelling now. I am not saying we should have only bars and nightclubs but we should have activities available. At Le Duc, we’ve done this and we now have a massive beach party once a month. Each time it brings together around 1,000 people and clients and locals love it.
SNA: Your establishment Le Duc de Praslin won the award for Best Large Tourism Establishment, what do you think sets you apart from the other candidates?
RP: I’m not boasting that Le Duc is the best hotel in Seychelles, but it is the best hotel that offers much more in one place than many other hotels. This is our strong point that I think won us the award because the awards had several criteria and the hotels had to do a presentation.
We had to give details about what we’ve done after COVID, the progress and future plans of our hotel, how we have innovated and more importantly what have we done for the community.
|Payet said that the hotel offers much more in one place than many other hotels. (Robert Payet) Photo License: All Rights Reserved
SNA: What obstacles have you faced as an entrepreneur?
RP: For me, it’s the fact that I am alone. Yes, I have my family, but as a businessman, as the sole director of a large hotel, I find that most major decisions fall on me and this is challenging. I have to trust myself.
Another challenge is of course financing. The lending interest rates are too high in Seychelles. I would have achieved much more if I had more accessibility to affordable financing. We see big corporations borrowing at 1.5 percent and we have to borrow at around 6 or 7 percent. I could have achieved so much more.
SNA: You won Entrepreneur of the Year and Best Large Establishment. How does it feel to have won two prestigious awards?
RP: It was an emotional moment for me. It’s a double achievement, it came at the right time. I am 50 years old this year. There are so many other hard-working businessmen in Seychelles that also deserve this award and I salute them, next time, it will be their turn.
SNA: What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
RP: You have to be very disciplined in your business, in whatever you’re doing. You have to put your mind to something. Sometimes a lot of entrepreneurs want to do so many businesses and then it’s a stress on them. I would advise people to concentrate more on what they know and improve on one or two businesses. Be cost-effective. Also, be patient, it takes time, especially in the tourism industry.
SNA: What is the next step for you and Le Duc de Praslin?
RP: For me, I will not stop until I am in my coffin. It’s not about the money, it’s the joy and pride of doing my business, otherwise, I would not have invested so much in the hotel. We had been working on an additional project before COVID, and we eventually faced delays because of the pandemic but at the same time, it allowed us to revise the plan and fine-tune the project.
We’ve already gotten the approval of the government to add 68 more rooms. But we are not just adding extra rooms; we are going to transform Le Duc de Praslin into the best lifestyle hotel Seychelles has ever seen. I believe that when we reopen, we might even win the award again because we are going to be so different from other hotels. We will also be adding a beach club to the hotel.