Korean startup Yanolja: A travel ‘unicorn’ startup that withstood challenging times of pandemic era 

The year 2020 had been catastrophic for the travel & hospitality industry globally with the COVID-19 pandemic that put a deep dent in the revenues. However, one Korean startup in the travel & hospitality sector has resiliently stood the trials of the pandemic era and emerged stronger. Yanolja, the Seoul-based accommodation and leisure activity booking platform, is the fastest-growing travel ‘unicorn’ startup of South Korea. 

Accommodation, Transport, Leisure on one platform

Known as a ‘Super App’ in the online travel business, Yanolja provides all services for travel including accommodation, leisure, and transportation in Korea. The accommodation booking services firm became a unicorn in 2019 with a market value exceeding 1 trillion won ($855 million). The 15-year-old startup offers reservations at accommodations in more than 160 countries worldwide and is a dominating player in the local tourism industry with over 12 million users in Korea using the platform.

Yanolja’s main app offers travellers and business visitors options to book rooms and transport services. It offers various properties for booking like motels, hotels, glamping/camping, pool villas, overseas accommodations. Users can book transport services like renting cars, airline tickets and also book leisure activities like spas, resorts, etc. The app also offers special prices, coupons, first-come-first-serve basis service, early-bird discounts, and a special point accumulation system for regular users. 

Yanolja offers multiple options to users.

In the offline sector, Yanolja is one of the largest franchise operators in Southeast Asia, managing more than 10,000 rooms. It is also Asia’s best full-stack hospitality company, supplying an integrated hotel platform by effectively utilizing IoT, AI, and blockchain technologies. Yanolja has developed one of the biggest hotel property management services wherein it has integrated entire hotel operations, covering from the front office to back office including housekeeping and maintenance. Yanolja connects the B2B2C value chain of the travel industry with a one-stop network and integrates it into a single platform.

Growth despite COVID-19 pause

The startup’s gross annual sales in 2019 were 300 billion won up 78.8 percent from the year before. Of the total, 270 billion won came from domestic sales, a 68 percent year-on-year growth, while overseas sales totaled 30 billion won, an over four-fold increase from 6.9 billion won in the same period. Despite the COVID-19 crisis, Yanolja made a good stride in 2020 as well with data from Wise App, a data analysis service showing a growth of about 4 percent in year-on-year sales as many Koreans opted to travel local destinations over overseas trips. 

Yanolja also made significant investments in 2020. The travel startup invested $9 million (10 billion Korean won) in Triple, a travel data services startup. The company acquired Dailyhotel, its biggest rival in the country and Indian lodgings management platform eZee Technosys. The startup had announced its plan to enter the public market in 2021 and with everything going in its favour, the plan may soon be executed. “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,” said an official from Yanolja in a media statement, “We will contribute to the development of the [accommodation] industry through digital transformation and leading the global market.”

With the COVID-19 vaccination on the roll and globally the disease showing signs of slowing down, Yanolja could expect a boisterous year ahead. 

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