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Top Korean travel platform Yanolja to join startups lining up for IPOs

Sep 29, 2020 (Gmt+09:00)

South Korea’s largest travel platform Yanolja is planning to list on the domestic stock market in 2022, paving the way for Singapore’s GIC and US online travel agency Booking Holdings Inc. to exit their combined $180 million investment in the startup.

Yanolja is the country’s eighth unicorn, or a private company valued at over $1 billion. It recently invited brokerage companies to an auction to select IPO managers, according to investment banking sources on Sept. 28. It will pick an IPO underwriter next month to kick off the share sale process next year.

If listed, it will likely become the country’s second unicorn to go public in Korea, following games developer Krafton Inc., which is seeking to raise over 1 trillion won in a 2021 IPO.

Last year, GIC and Booking Holdings invested a combined $180 million in Yanolja, just a few months before CVC Capital Partners acquired over 80% of South Korea’s No. 2 accommodation booking app operator With Innovation Corp. CVC invested around 340 billion won in the Korean startup.

Yanolja's planned IPO is its second attempt to go public. Back in 2018, the company mandated Mirae Asset Daewoo Co. and Daishin Securities as its IPO managers, but withdrew the listing plan, hit by worsening earnings and reports of controversial business activities by some of its franchisees.

The company is revisiting the IPO plan after it posted a positive EBITDA last year, said the sources.

Its Korean business revenue doubled to 245 billion won ($210 million) in 2019 thanks to a series of bolt-on acquisitions, In Korea, it took over a provincial hotel operator, an accommodation reservation app, and hotel and restaurant booking app Daily Hotel.

In terms of global expansion, since 2018 Yanolja has acquired eZee Technosys, an Indian hotel housekeeping service provider, in addition to Southeast Asia's No. 1 hotel chain ZENRooms

Thanks to the diversified portfolio, its revenue rose to around 600 billion won in transaction value between January and September, up 4% from the year-earlier period despite the COVID-19 impact. In comparison, revenues at global rivals Agoda and Hotels.com declined sharply, the sources added.

South Korea’s IPO market has been gaining momentum due to a series of offerings by startups, with retail investors flocking to stock markets in search of better returns. This year's high-profile IPOs included SK Biopharmaceutical Co.

Kakao Games Corp. had a very successful IPO earlier in September and on Sept. 28 Big Hit Entertainment Co. priced its IPO at the top end of its indicative range. Kakao Bank and Kakao Pay, units of the country's top mobile messaging app operator, and SK Bioscience Co. are preparing for 2021 public offerings.
By Han-jong Choi and Ye-jin Jun

ace@hankyung.com

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