Yanolja’s promotional image / Courtesy of Yanolja
By Anna J. Park
Korea’s largest travel application, Yanolja, is now expected to focus on expanding its overseas business through aggressive acquisitions after securing a whopping two trillion won ($1.7 billion) investment from SoftBank recently.
Market watchers view that most of the money raised from SoftBank will be spent in acquiring global online travel agencies in order to realize the Japanese conglomerate’s vision of transforming the travel and leisure application into a comprehensive entertainment platform covering travel, mobility, restaurants and other contents through geographical expansion. Given the current recession in the global travel industry, more opportunities exist for Yanolja now to acquire promising tourism businesses around the world.
Even before the investment from SoftBank, Yanolja has been aggressively expanding its business scope beyond borders. Back in 2018, Yanolja began investing in ZEN Rooms, one of the leading mid-sized hotel franchises in Southeast Asia. And now, the travel company is the hotel chain’s largest shareholder. Yanolja’s breakthrough also came when it acquired India’s lodging management platform, eZee Technosys, in 2019, which is one of the top players in the hotel property management system industry.
Based on these successful business units, Yanolja is providing top-notch global hospitality solutions for 22,000 client businesses in over 160 countries. That’s why Yanolja is often referred to as an IT business, rather than just a travel application.
However, obstacles in the global expansion are also evident, considering the solid market positions of major global tourism conglomerates. Currently, U.S.-based Booking Holdings and Expedia as well as China-headquartered CITS command a significant portion of the market. Yanolja needs to find global niche markets to expand its business scope, in order to satisfy SoftBank’s vision of expanding the Korean firm into one of the world’s top travel platforms in the next few years.
With the investment, SoftBank acquired 25 percent of Yanolja’s shares, becoming the second-largest shareholder, following the company’s founder Lee Su-jin. SoftBank spent around one trillion won to purchase Yanolja shares held by some venture capital firms and another one trillion won to acquire newly-issued stocks. Yanolja’s corporate value is expected to exceed around eight trillion won with the investment.
Meanwhile, Yanolja is set to appoint two key SoftBank figures as non-executive directors at the upcoming shareholders’ meeting in early August. Moon Gyu-hak, SoftBank Investment Advisers’ managing director, as well as Lee Ji-haeng, SoftBank Investment Advisors’ investment director, will join Yanolja’s non-executive director’s list, reflecting SoftBank’s burgeoning influence in the travel company.