SoftBank registers early for post-COVID-19 hotel boom

(The author is a columnist for Reuters Breakingviews. The opinions expressed are his own.)

HONG KONG – Rare South Korean unicorn offers insight into post-pandemic travel. SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2 is investing $ 1.7 billion in Yanolja, an unlikely success in an industry among the most affected by Covid-19. It’s a huge bet on AI-powered hotel software and contactless services for guests.

Founder Lee Sujin achieved early success advertising so-called love hotels, expanding the budget and short-stay market despite their once shabby reputation. In just a few years, he transformed the business into an online reservation service that includes not only cheap sites, but also chic hotels, entertainment, transportation and restaurants. It has also diversified into the sale of technology to hotels.

This allowed Yanolja to navigate the chaos of Covid-19 in style. Its cloud computing software, which competes with Oracle, helps customers reduce costs by managing reservations, contactless check-ins and other nifty tools like customer location tracking, making planning easier. housekeeping and other operations. Opportunities to cut overheads and improve social distancing were welcome during the pandemic, so while most of the major travel companies saw sales plummet last year, Yanolja turned to operating profit. of 16.1 billion won ($ 14 million) as revenue rose 44% to 192 billion won. .

SoftBank and existing backers, including Booking Holdings’ $ 87 billion, are riding a wave of travel optimism. Despite the chaos of Covid-19, a basket of twelve major travel stocks, including booking groups Expedia and TripAdvisor, airlines and hotels have added more than $ 100 billion to their combined market capitalization, or nearly 80 %, since March 2020, when the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic last year, is calculating Breakingviews. Financial details of Yanolja’s latest fundraising have not been disclosed, but recent OTC share sales suggest the company’s valuation has climbed to $ 7.6 billion, from around $ 1 billion. dollars in 2019.

SoftBank’s approval should help Yanolja gain new customers, especially as international borders are gradually opening up. The company told Reuters it expects its customer base to reach half a million businesses by 2025 and has signed new hotels in fast-growing markets like Indonesia, India and Africa. This suggests that SoftBank’s early registration could earn five stars.

NEWS CONTEXT

– SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2 has invested $ 1.7 billion in Yanolja, the South Korean travel company said on July 15. Yanolja plans to use this funding to invest in new technologies and expand into new markets.

– Last year, Yanolja reached operating profit of 16.1 billion won ($ 14 million) from a loss of 6.2 billion won, while revenue increased 44% to 192 billion of won.

(The author is a columnist for Reuters Breakingviews. The opinions expressed are his own.)

(Edited by Robyn Mak and Sharon Lam) ((SIGN UP FOR BREAKINGVIEWS EMAIL ALERTS http://bit.ly/BVsubscribe | [email protected]; Reuters Messaging: katrina.hamlin.thomsonreuters. [email protected]))

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