The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] Yanolja envisions self-check-in hotels with app-controlled rooms

Executive talks about SoftBank-backed startup’s next growth engine, ambitions to reshape the global hospitality industry

By Yim Hyun-su

Published : Aug. 17, 2021 - 15:41

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Lee Sang-jin, director of solution business at Yanolja Cloud, stands next to a Y Flux self check-in kiosk (Yanolja) Lee Sang-jin, director of solution business at Yanolja Cloud, stands next to a Y Flux self check-in kiosk (Yanolja)
When travel and leisure platform operator Yanolja raised $1.7 billion from SoftBank Vision Fund 2 last month, it drew comparisons with e-commerce giant Coupang, drumming up excitement over the recent startup boom in South Korea.

“We have the super app Yanolja at home and a cloud-based automation solution for the international market. They are fast-growing markets with great potential and we believe the funding acknowledges our technology to keep things going and our great team,” Lee Sang-jin, director of solution business at Yanolja Cloud, told The Korea Herald.

Yanolja Cloud is the cloud business arm of the company, best known here for its eponymous accommodation-booking app. As of last month, the parent firm was one of the country’s 15 unicorns, designated by the Ministry of SMEs and Startups.

The mobile app, which was released in 2015, has grown in popularity over the years as a booking platform for motels, with the help of TV commercials that target younger people.

But it is the company’s cloud-based hospitality solutions business that is seen as its next growth engine, boasting 30,000 business-to-business customers in 170 countries.

“The hospitality industry is a rather conservative market, which is not prone to change. Until recently, some major hotels have had their own server and a standby generator in the basement to keep their enterprise resource planning system alive in case of an emergency,” Lee said.

“If there had been a power blackout, they would not be able to accept customers. Some establishments would print out a list of guests every day just in case.”

It is against this backdrop that Yanolja wants to reshape the hospitality industry, bringing behind-the-counter operations up to date with its cloud-based hospitality solutions business, which it says works as a tool to help hotel owners keep the business running smoothly -- similar to software tools adopted by companies to keep track of revenue or punctuality, for example.

The coronavirus pandemic has dealt a severe blow to the tourism sector, but it has also forced the hotel industry to find ways to raise productivity, leading to a rise in demand for cloud-based hotel solution services.

And while previous property management systems, known as PMS in the industry, tend to be “server-based” and “on-premise,” Yanolja’s cloud-based solution is ubiquitous.

“You can access it on your laptop or your phone without being limited, which is the biggest difference compared to previous services,” Lee said.

Guests will feel the difference too, he said, when the system is fully in place.

“If guests want an early check-in, you will have to manually type that, which is then sorted out by an online travel agency. You can only let the guests know the availability when they check in.

“If the data can flow thanks to a cloud-based service, those details can be exchanged in advance and hotels can take a data-based approach to better serving customers based on the data they collect,” he said.

The waiting time in the lobby could also be cut short drastically in the future by digitalizing the check-in and check-out process.

“Check-in lines can be extremely long at resorts where most people, many of them families, tend to arrive at the same time. It makes cleaners busy all of a sudden, bookings pile up and guests will have to wait longer, resulting in a poor customer experience,” Lee said.

“Kiosks or issuing (digital) passes for guests to check in will become technically feasible.”

Guests can also change the lighting or adjust temperatures through a mobile app, thanks to a smart hotel management system known as Y Flux.

Though parts of the system have been unveiled, including a kiosk and a guest room management system, the system as a whole is expected to be launched globally as soon as sometime later this year.

“It will be with the introduction of the accompanying PMS and channel managers that we will see the cloud-based hotel service become fully realized.

“We are currently running tests based on already complete projects with plans to commercialize these solutions sometime later this year or early next year, creating a synergy with preexisting hardware and software solutions and delivering a palpable change for business owners and hotel guests,” he said.