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South Korea’s Travel App Yanolja Backed by Booking Holdings Invests in Data Startup Ahead of IPO

South Korea’s Travel App Yanolja Backed by Booking Holdings Invests in Data Startup Ahead of IPO

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Yanolja may seek a valuation of $4 billion in its planned IPO next year. Its investment in Triple underscores its ambition to surpass South Korea and become a global provider of super apps and hospitality services.

Sean O’Neal, Shift

South Korean travel startup unicorn Yanolja has invested $9 million (10 billion won) in travel data service startup Triple. The move announced this month comes just weeks after Booking Holdings-backed Yanolja announced plans to list on the public market in 2021.

“The IPO will be an important part of our company’s transformation into a global hospitality solutions provider and leisure super-app destination,” a spokesperson said. “We hope to use the IPO as an opportunity to diversify our business by investing in cloud services and further expanding the global market. In addition, Yanolja plans to actively invest in research and development to develop into a “global leisure super app.”

When Booking Holdings raised a $180 million Series D round with GIC and other investors in 2019, Yanloja was valued at more than $1 billion (1 trillion won) and was recognized as a unicorn. The Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s largest newspaper, citing industry sources, said the company was valued at about $4 billion (5 trillion won).

Yanolja’s 2019 sales were $268.6 million (300 billion won), up 78.8 percent from the previous year. The company did not provide net profit figures for 2019, but set operating profit for 2019 up 20 percent year-on-year to $14.5 million (15.8 billion won) — calculated as EBITDA.

triple play

Triple (its name is a mix of “travel” and “people”) is a travel-specialized startup based in South Korea. Founded in 2017, Triple provides various travel information and products in 210 cities around the world in Korean, including airlines, hotels, tourist attractions, restaurants and shopping.

Triple had just 400,000 active users in its peak July travel month of 6 million accounts, a size not as dramatic as the context of Yanolja’s broader trajectory.

Triple’s data analysis may be useful to Yanolja. Based on information from 1.2 million cumulative websites and 900,000 user reviews, Triple uses artificial intelligence to personalize what Koreans need to know when traveling.

In May, Triple began offering travel services in popular domestic destinations Busan and Gangwon-do. In November, it launched a service within its mobile app that recommends tourist attractions and restaurants to people based on the trips they book. The company’s data analysis revealed what other travelers liked on similar routes.

Asked by Skift if Yanolja now owns a majority stake in Triple, a spokesman declined to comment.

Triple intends to use the funding to strengthen its proposition as a global leisure app, the spokesperson said. Triple is adding integrations with online travel agencies such as and Agoda, allowing consumers to metasearch to compare deals and prices.

Another travel startup unicorn

Yanolja has hired Mirae Asset Daewoo and Samsung Securities as underwriters for its IPO. Given Yanolja’s global ambitions, is it likely that it will use Morgan Stanley as a third underwriter?

“Whether we will add a securities firm has yet to be decided,” a spokesman said.

A spokesman confirmed that Yanolja’s largest shareholder is its chief executive Lee Su-jin and his associates, with a combined 41.6 percent stake.

global ambition

Yanolja started in 2005 as an online service to list motels. It has expanded to cover a variety of properties, including those operated under its brand. The company today lists about 20,000 accommodations out of 55,000 registered hotels and guesthouses in South Korea. Among all online booking agencies in South Korea, online bookings for domestic accommodation have the largest share, Yanolja said.

Yanolja has since added rental car bookings, as well as vacation rentals, premium hotels, spa services, ski packages, train tickets, insurance and luxury tents.

Yanolja has promoted the software-as-a-service game for hoteliers around the world over the past year. Yanolja and its eZee software brand aim to become the world’s number one cloud-based hospitality solutions provider within the next three years, surpassing the likes of Oracle Hospitality and Cloudbeds. (See Skift’s October story.)

Yanolja’s hotel automation technology, called Y Flux, includes mobile check-in and key-issuance services without the need to go to the front desk. The kiosks offer customers a contactless way to identify themselves using facial mapping, blockchain technology and a QR code-based method for booking confirmations. Guests can control room temperature through a mobile app, which can also market late check-out opportunities to guests.

“We want to expand the hotel automation solution we are developing to the global market. Yanolja wants to evolve into REST [Refresh, Entertain, Stay, Travel] SaaS-based data platform [software as a service],” the spokesperson said in an email interview.

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