Having invested in South Korean accommodation startup, Yanolja, Booking Holdings says its focus on the South Korean market can be explained by two reasons— the market opportunity in the region and Yanolja's innovative platform which holds thousands of hotels in its PMS.
Agoda's Vice President of Corporate Development, Timothy Hughes, who spent nearly three years studying the market, said, “I knew nothing about the market and it was a lot of fun, getting to know the different players and where they sit. It was an intellectual challenge, it is a different culture, as well as a financial challenge, learning to negotiate a deal.”
Together with GIC, Booking Holdings committed US$180 million into the accommodation startup which, since its launch in 2015, has secured a total of US$242 million in funding.
Said Hughes, “For the last four years, South Korea’s outbound has been booming. It is the fastest growing market and the ninth largest outbound market in the world, and the second largest in Asia. On a population of 55 million, there were close to 30 million trips made last year.
“The economy is doing relatively well and there is equal activity from international and local players. We were amazed by the number of local players. South Korea also has its own ecosystem – chat, metasearch, the way people engage with content is different. You can’t go in with your Google playbook and expect it to work. Plus, Yanolja is run by smart people, its P&L is sensible and there was no crazy valuation.”
Alongside its booking service for accommodation in South Korea, Yanolja also runs a chain of 200 properties in the country under its own brand, as well as owns ZEN Rooms in South-east Asia. It also provides PMS services for property owners that use the platform for third-party distribution.
Other than inventory exchange, with Yanolja’s properties made available on Agoda and eventually Booking.com and Yanolja hosting inventory from Agoda and Booking.com on its own service, Hughes said the deal would involve other exciting projects related to the fact that it has “tens of thousands of hotels installed on its PMS”.
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