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Yanolja offers more than just reservations

Booking app branches out to offer hotels a range of IT solutions

Nov 26,2019
From left: A prototype of the Y Flux kiosk and amenity vending machines at Yanolja’s headquarters in Gangnam District, southern Seoul; Jung Jae-hoon, Yanolja’s director of hospitality solution & supply chain network, left, and Shin Sung-chul, director of business development; A showroom of Yanolja’s Heyy, Seogwipo Hotel complete with KT’s GiGA Genie AI speaker at the company’s Gangnam headquarters. [YANOLJA]
Korea’s answer to Booking.com is looking for new ways to revolutionize the hotel industry.

Yanolja started out in 2011 as a mobile reservation platform mainly focused on motels, an industry that used to have a seedy reputation in Korea. Before Yanolja came along, motels generally weren’t listed online and couldn’t be reserved except in person or over the phone.

Last June, the company became Korea’s eighth start-up with a valuation above $1 billion. One of its investors is Booking Holdings, the parent company of websites Booking.com and Agoda.com.

Yanolja is regularly held up as an example of how new technology can be used to revitalize an old-fashioned industry, but for many Koreans the company is best known for its reservation app, which now offers a wider variety, from guest houses and pensions to fancy resorts.

What a lot of users probably don’t know is that the company has also carved out a space for itself in the business-to-business (B2B) market, selling IT solutions to hotels and venues. Yanolja sees this technology, which includes everything from the software needed to manage reservations to hardware security systems, as the future of its global business.

“The global hospitality market is worth around 1,000 trillion won [$850 billion] - among which business-to-consumer is worth 75 trillion, and B2B is worth 25 trillion won,” said Kim Jong-yoon, CEO of Yanolja’s online business & corporate strategy in a conference last week. “Our aim is to establish solutions and platforms to solve issues happening across this market in collaboration with various players.”

Last February, Yanolja acquired the top two local providers of property management systems, the software that manages reservations, housekeeping, amenities and other administrative work. In September, it merged with eZee Technosys, an Indian company and the world’s second-largest in the business.

This expanded Yanolja’s list of IT solution clients from 8,000 hotels in Korea - earned through previous local acquisitions - to 21,000 hotels around the world.

The mobile app operator’s drive to expand the role of IT in increasing efficiency for hotel management is also rooted in founder Lee Su-jin’s past experience. Before launching Yanolja, Lee himself was the manager of a motel.

IT hospitality solutions are not limited to helping at the front desk. In partnership with mobile carrier KT, Yanolja is developing technology that goes inside hotel rooms. Several rooms at Yanolja’s Heyy, Seogwipo Hotel in Jeju Island, which opened earlier this year, come with KT’s GiGA Genie AI speaker that can receive voice commands for simple tasks like closing curtains, turning on the air conditioning and ordering room service.

“When it comes to sensors - for power, key holders or door locks - the core task is to enable timely transmission of information to front desk staff so they can increase work efficiency to the max,” explained Shin Sung-chul, Yanolja’s director of business development. “GiGA Genie is a very small part of that entire set.”

The degree of technology at the moment is not jaw-dropping, but the ability to remotely control different hotel services lays the ground for more automated services in the future, like robots delivering a cold bottle of champagne straight to the room.

A new feature Yanolja will introduce in Korea this month is an electronic kiosk that allows app users to check in and receive their key card without having to interact with any hotel employees.

The entire process takes seconds, with users checking on the app and then picking up their key card at the kiosk. Of course, employees will be stationed in the lobby for now, but in the long term, the kiosk is the first step toward the introduction of the “tech lobby.”

“For identification, it’s enough to know that the customer is a man or woman and a legal adult,” said Jung Jae-hoon, Yanolja’s director of hospitality solutions who heads research and development for everything IT except the mobile app. “A lot of customers don’t want that unnecessary contact. You also may not want to share your passport number or your address.”

The kiosk is the first product introduced under Yanolja’s IT solution platform Y Flux, which is preparing automated services for early and late check-ins, mobile concierge and vending machines for amenities.

“Starting from January, we’ll release new IT hospitality features roughly every month,” Jung added.

The need comes not only from guests but hotel owners as well. Hotels are a 24-hour business, and hiring people for night shifts comes at a cost that’s rapidly rising in Korea.

“It’s fate - our business is tied to both ends of suppliers and consumers, so we have to solve problems for all sides,” said Shin. “And our customers are people with limited time and money in their hands. Our role is to find the best way to help them have a good time in the most efficient way possible.”

BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]


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