SoftBank Buys Into Korean Travel Start-Up Yanolja Ahead Of US Listing

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SoftBank’s Vision Fund reportedly planning to buy 10 percent of South Korean hotel booking platform Yanolja as it looks to follow up Coupang success

Japanese technology holding company SoftBank is in reportedly talks to acquire a 10 percent stake in Korean hotel-booking start-up Yanolja, as the platform prepares for a US market listing.

SoftBank’s Vision Fund is likely to invest about 1 trillion won (£625m) in Yanolja, with a deal expected to be signed this week, local media reported.

The investment is key to driving an expected IPO in the United States as early as 2023.

“Vision Fund’s financial support will be a huge plus for Yanolja to make its US IPO actually happen,” a South Korean investment banking source told the Korea Times.

Nasdaq listing

Another industry source said that SoftBank had requested a Nasdaq listing, rather than a domestic IPO, as a prerequisite for the Vision Fund investment.

Morgan Stanley was reportedly in talks to become Yanolja’s lead underwriter for a US listing. Yanolja had previously signed up Mirae Asset Securities and Samsung Securities as underwriters for a local IPO, which now appears likely to be cancelled.

If completed, the deal would become SoftBank’s second-biggest investment in South Korea after its $3bn (£2.2bn) stake in Coupang, the country’s leading e-commerce company.

Coupang’s US listing pushed SoftBank into record profits last year and saw the South Korean company’s valuation briefly surpass $100bn.

China crackdown

SoftBank, led by billionaire founder Masayoshi Son, is currently facing setbacks in China due to the country’s investigation of ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing over data security concerns.

Vision Fund is the largest shareholder in Didi, which has seen its New York-listed shares lose more than 15 percent of their value over the past week.

SoftBank is also an investor in Full Truck Alliance, another US-listed company being investigated by China’s data regulator.

Coupang is also facing public scrutiny in South Korea over its business practices and work conditions.

A number of Asian tech companies have chosen to hold primary or secondary IPOs in the US in recent years, while Indonesian e-commerce platform Bukalapak is planning a $1bn domestic listing.

Expansion

Yanolja, whose name means “Hey, let’s play” in Korean, was founded in 2005 and posted its first operating profit last year in spite of coronavirus-related travel restrictions.

It reported a 16.1bn won operating profit for the year on revenues of 192bn won.

The company hosts about 26,000 hotels in 170 countries and is expanding into other hospitality services, such as leisure bookings and software to automate hotel partners’ operations.

In 2019 it received a $180m investment from Singapore’s sovereign fund GIC and US online travel agency Booking.com, and acquired ZEN Rooms, a south-east Asian hotel start-up, as well as India-based eZee Technosys, the world’s second-largest property management system provider.

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