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Yanolja, South Korea’s travel startup unicorn, has invested $9 million (10 billion Korean won) in Triple, a travel data services startup. The move announced this month came just a couple of weeks after Yanolja, backed by Booking Holdings, announced its plan to list on the public markets in 2021.
“The IPO will be an important process for our company’s goals to transform into a global hospitality solution provider and a super app for leisure,” a spokesperson said. “We hope to use the IPO as an opportunity to diversify its business by investing in cloud services and expanding further into global markets. In addition, Yanolja plans to actively invest in R&D to evolve into a ‘global leisure super app.'”
When Booking Holdings joined GIC and other investors in a $180 million Series D round in 2019, Yanloja was valued at over more than $1 billion (1 trillion won) and recognized as a unicorn. South Korea’s largest newspaper Chosun Ilbo has quoted industry sources as placing an approximately $4 billion (5 trillion won) valuation on the company.
Yanolja generated $268.6 million (300 billion won) in sales in 2019, representing 78.8 percent growth over the previous year. The company didn’t provide net profit figures for 2019 but set operating profit in 2019 improved by 20 percent year-over-year to $14.5 million (15.8 billion won) — calculated as earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization.
Triple (whose name is an amalgam of “trip” and “people) is a travel-specialized startup based in South Korea. Triple, founded in 2017, provides various travel information and products, such as aviation, hotels, tourist attractions, restaurants, and shopping, in 210 cities around the world in the Korean language.
The size of the Triple, which only had 400,000 active users in the peak travel month of July out of its six million accounts, is less notable than the context of Yanolja’s broader trajectory.
Triple’s data analysis might be useful to Yanolja. Based on information on 1.2 million cumulative sites and 900,000 user reviews, Triple uses artificial intelligence to provide personalized information customized for information Koreans need to know to travel.
In May, Triple began a travel service in Busan and Gangwon, popular domestic destinations. In November, it rolled out a service to its mobile app that recommends tourist attractions and restaurants to people based on the itinerary they’ve booked. The company’s data analysis surfaces what other travelers have also liked along similar routes.
Skift asked Yanolja if it now owned a majority stake in Triple, and a spokesperson declined to comment.
Triple intends to use the funds to strengthen its claim to be a global leisure app, the spokesperson said. Triple is adding integrations with online travel agencies such as Booking.com and Agoda that lets consumers compare deals and rates in a metasearch fashion.
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Yanolja has tapped Mirae Asset Daewoo and Samsung Securities as underwriters for its IPO. Is there a chance it might add Morgan Stanley as a third underwriter, given Yanolja’s global ambitions?
“It has not been decided whether we’ll add a securities firm,” a spokesperson said.
The largest shareholder of Yanolja is its CEO Lee Su-jin and an affiliated person, with a combined 41.6 percent stake, a spokesperson confirmed.
Yanolja began in 2005 as an online service listing motels. It has expanded to cover a variety of properties, including ones it runs under its brand. The company today lists about 20,000 accommodations out of the 55,000 registered inns and guesthouses in South Korea. Yanolja said it had brought online the largest share of domestic accommodation of any online booking agency in South Korea.
Yanolja has since added rental car bookings, and it also offers vacation rentals, premium hotels, spa services, ski packages, rail tickets, insurance, and glamping.
Yanolja has in the past year promoted a software-services play for hoteliers worldwide. The goal is for Yanolja, together with its eZee software brand, to become the number-one global cloud-based hospitality solutions provider within the next three years by the number of properties, overtaking companies like Oracle Hospitality and Cloudbeds. (See Skift’s October story.)
Yanolja’s hotel automation tech, called Y Flux, includes mobile check-in and key issuance services without needing to visit a front desk. Kiosks offer contactless ways for a customer to identify themselves using facial mapping, blockchain technology, and a QR-code based method reservation confirmation. Guests can control room temperature via a mobile app, which can also upsell guests on the opportunity to have a late checkout.
“We want to expand the hotel automation solution we’re developing to the global market. And Yanolja wants to evolve into a REST [Refresh, Entertain, Stay, Travel] data platform centered on SaaS [software as a service],” the spokesperson said via an email interview.