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Travel platforms

Yanolja, HanaTour team up to take lead in travel market

Top hotel booking platform joins hands with HanaTour to transition into a global online travel agency

By Oct 06, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

Yanolja, HanaTour team up to take lead in travel market

South Korea’s No. 1 accommodation booking platform Yanolja has joined forces with the country's leading travel agency HanaTour Service Inc. to take the lead in the international travel market that is set to take off again in the post-pandemic era.

According to the investment banking industry on Oct. 6, Yanolja and HanaTour signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) last month. As part of their strategic partnership, HanaTour will exclusively provide its overseas tour packages to Yanolja, which will offer Hana's products on its platform. The two companies are also planning to co-invest in the setting up of an IT infrastructure.

“Based on how their partnership progresses, the two companies may even commit to a share swap,” said an IB industry official.

The Yanolja-HanaTour alliance is expected to shake up the domestic online travel agency (OTA) market as it's a union between accommodation and travel giants. The alliance is also likely to trigger fierce competition among platform operators such as Naver Corp., Kakao Corp. and Coupang Inc., which have been expanding their travel businesses.

The travel industry has not been able to recover to the pre-pandemic level. Even HanaTour -- despite being Korea’s No. 1 travel agency -- logged revenue of just 15.8 billion won ($13.2 million) in the first half of the year.

Going forward, industry watchers say the level of preparation for the new travel landscape that has changed due to the pandemic will play a key factor in determining who dominates the travel industry.

For example, HanaTour has been making huge efforts to diversify its products, such as creating international tour packages that don't oblige travelers to go shopping, eat at Korean restaurants or stay at a nearby hotel. The company has also shifted its sales strategy by upgrading its app as well as providing its services on a major online platform -- Yanolja.

HanaTour is Korea's No. 1 travel agency.
HanaTour is Korea's No. 1 travel agency.

Meanwhile, Yanolja has been spending big money to expand its business abroad. Its partnership with HanaTour is widely seen as the groundwork for the company to transition into a global OTA.

“There’s an extremely high entry barrier when it comes to planning international trip packages since it requires establishing an extensive network as well as high costs,” said a travel industry official.

While Yanolja has a competitive edge in the digital segment such as artificial intelligence technology and big data, it doesn't have a strong travel package portfolio, which is likely to be resolved through its partnership with HanaTour, industry watchers say.

YANOLJA STEPS UP ITS GAME

Travel and platform industry officials are taking note now that Yanolja has officially ventured into the travel industry.

Earlier this year, Yanolja raised 2 trillion won ($1.7 billion) from the Masayoshi Son-led SoftBank Vision Fund II with SoftBank disclosing plans to broaden Yanolja's businesses to embrace mobility, concerts, restaurants and content.

"Yanolja needs to make the leap to become a global travel platform if it wants to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange like Coupang and fetch a valuation of between 8 trillion won and 9 trillion won," said an IB industry official.

Armed with deep pockets, Yanolja has carried out 13 M&A deals over the past three years. The company has invested in the Southeast Asia-based hotel chain ZEN Rooms and eZee Technosys, the world's No. 2 property management system (PMS) solution provider based in India.

"Yanolja is building up an IT infrastructure to evolve as a global accommodation platform that can connect users with 2-star, 3-star hotels and motels worldwide," said an industry official.

Yanolja, HanaTour team up to take lead in travel market

KOREA'S OTA MARKET HEATS UP

The race to claim the throne in the post-pandemic travel market is expected to heat up between platform and travel companies.

Recently, Korea's No. 2 accommodation platform Yeogi Eotta went on a hiring spree, recruiting former employees from travel agencies as the company plans to develop travel packages.

Korea's leading platform operator Kakao, which acquired the travel agency TideSquare Co. in 2019, is also preparing to launch travel services, although it may take a slower approach given the recent crackdown.

Other platforms including Naver, Coupang and online grocery delivery service Market Kurly are also eager to grab a slice of the travel market.

Naver previously operated a travel information service Wingbus, which was shut down after facing criticism that it was killing smaller travel agencies. But recently, Naver has been beefing up its travel content by offering travel products on its platform.

"Travel products are one of the most effective ways to boost traffic. But unlike other products, they tend to receive more complaints so we'll have to see how the platforms go about offering travel products," said an e-commerce industry official.

Write to Dong-hui Park at donghuip@hankyung.com

Danbee Lee edited this article.

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