Interview: Jong Yoon Kim

Get ready for an exclusive interview with Jong Yoon Kim, CEO of Yanolja Cloud, as we take a deep dive into the world of Yanolja and Yanolja Cloud. Discover how they evolved from an OTA to a super-app, overcame challenges to achieve unicorn status, and balance customer needs with those of investors and stakeholders. We’ll also delve into how Yanolja is adapting to the changing travel industry and prioritizing customer data privacy and security. Join us for a behind-the-scenes chat at one of the world’s fastest-growing travel tech companies!

  • Can you describe the evolution of Yanolja from an OTA to a super-app. Has this impacted or changed your business strategy over time?

Yanolja is the world’s fastest growing global travel platform and travel tech company. It is a one-stop shop for the B2B2C value chain of travel and is leading the digital transformation of the global travel industry. Through its portfolio of market-leading travel super apps, including Yanolja, Interpark, Tripple, and DailyHotel, the company provides a full range of travel services including accommodation, leisure, and transportation.

Born out of Yanolja was Yanolja Cloud, our AI-based SaaS (software-as-a-service) business focused on the hospitality and leisure industries. It was created to fill a need we saw in the market for technological solutions for properties. Yanolja Cloud is helping businesses within accommodations, food and beverage, residences, golf and other leisure facilities undergo digital transformation by offering a full suite of solutions. This includes those for efficiently managing properties, distribution solutions for inventory sales and management, an IoT Hub that provides automation connecting all hardware, and AI services based on an integrated data lake of Yanolja Cloud. 

The number of Yanolja Cloud’s global solution licenses has grown rapidly from 39,000 in 2019 to more than 80,000 today. With a presence in 170+ countries, in more than 60 languages, Yanolja Cloud enables businesses to adopt the solution that best meets their needs across its growing portfolio of companies, which includes Yanolja Cloud Korea, eZee Technosys and SanhaIT. Last year, Yanolja Cloud’s sales were up 225% from the previous year and its portion of Yanolja’s total sales rose to 18.11%.

While both Yanolja and Yanolja Cloud operate in the hospitality and leisure space, Yanolja Cloud has a different mission – a mission to create technology that makes it easier for hospitality and leisure properties to transform their business and delight their guests. That’s what I’m now focused on as the CEO of Yanolja Cloud, to help the company achieve that mission. 

  • What has been the most influential change in the travel sector for Yanolja? And how have you adapted?

Like most companies in the travel sector, COVID was a once in a generational event and the most influential change for Yanolja. Yanolja performed strongly throughout COVID and is excited to see travel rebounding throughout the world. During COVID’s peak, we saw a demand spike for our b2b solutions business as properties looked to increase contactless services and cut costs. 

COVID accelerated change in the industry at an incredible rate. Innovations that would have taken decades, happened in months. And now that the hospitality and leisure industries are forever changed, Yanolja Cloud is continuing to evolve its services to help properties everywhere transform through the digitization of their entire business including operations, products, services, and customer interactions.

  • Can you discuss any challenges you have faced in scaling your business to unicorn status, and how you have overcome them?

In order to become a unicorn company (corporate value of $1B or more), you must have the potential to grow into a decacorn company (enterprise value of $10B or more). That means it must lead future industry disruption to achieve sustainable growth. As Korea is a country with an annual travel & hospitality market size of 50 trillion won, which is the 5th largest in the world, Yanolja has enough room to grow for the time being with its OTA platform business specialized in the domestic travel market. However, the first challenge was that Yanolja had to grow into a top-tier global tech company in order to prove that being a unicorn was just the beginning and that it will be a sustainable company up to Hexacon (corporate value of more than $100B) in the future. 

The second challenge is evolving into a forward-looking business model. As it is difficult to innovate and upgrade the market with the existing OTA business, Yanolja is no longer just an OTA, a business model that relies on intermediaries, but a global data platform that can directly connect customers and suppliers. 

Adaptation to the rapid progress of digital technologies was the third challenge. Despite the rapid emergence of new AI and digital technologies such as Chat GPT, existing travel companies were more focused on business rather than R&D. Therefore, it was necessary to prove that Yanolja is a global tech company and to make an R&D-oriented company grow. Currently, we are developing an AI-based SaaS solution business in 170 countries around the world through Yanolja Cloud, which is becoming a leading company in its own right and delivering high-speed growth.

  • How does Yanolja approach customer data privacy and security, especially given the increasing importance of data protection regulations worldwide?

Yanolja takes customer data protection seriously and conducts customer data privacy and protection activities based on international standards. It also establishes and applies compliance standards in accordance with laws and regulations in each country to support its global business. In particular, Yanolja establishes and operates a separate and independent privacy zone infrastructure to process customer personal information to prevent external threats from occurring at the source and to provide a complete internal control environment. Yanolja’s information protection activities are validated once a year through the Information Security Management System (ISMS), which is certified by a national organization.

  • How do you balance your customers’ needs with those of your investors and stakeholders?

At the end of the day, all parties will be satisfied if we put the needs of customers first and innovate on their behalf. By listening to what customers need, and developing technology solutions that meet those needs, the customers will be happy and want to continue to use our products, which will in turn keep other stakeholders happy.

  • Can you describe the travel market in South Korea and how Yanolja fits into it? Are there some unique challenges and opportunities arising from operating a travel tech company in South Korea?

Digitalization is one of the most prominent changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Digital technology has become indispensable for delivering hyper-personalized services and differentiated experiences. Suddenly, “travel tech” has emerged as a driving force that will determine the success or failure of the travel market. Yanolja has built a vertical platform covering all areas of travel, including Yanolja, Interpark, Triple, and Daily Hotel, and has established itself as the number one  travel platform in the Korean market. Yanolja is also expanding into the global SaaS solutions market via Yanolja Cloud with 80,000 licenses in more than 170 countries around the world, and growing. 

Content is the key to competing in the travel tech market. It is important to note the growing demand for Korean content and culture including music, food and entertainment – which bolsters the potential of inbound travel products that utilize ‘K-culture’ as content. 

The Korean government recently set a goal and vision to increase the size of the tourism industry to 180 trillion won by 2027 and attract 30 million foreign tourists to Korea. This is more than the KRW152 trillion in semiconductor exports last year, which means that the travel industry can become a strong foundation for the Korean economy, and new opportunities await Yanolja. In this vast market, Yanolja plans to lead the way with its B2B2C business capabilities.

  • How do you see the travel industry evolving in the next 5-10 years, and what role do you see Yanolja playing in that evolution?

First, the use of technology to increase operational efficiency, adapt to change and provide a better customer experience will move rapidly from a nice-to-have to a must-have. This will be true for smaller properties and properties in developing markets, which are often not top-of-mind when people think of the industry’s use of technology. Yanolja Cloud has a strong base of customers that are often overlooked by some of the bigger technology players and we hope to continue to bring our technology to properties that traditionally wouldn’t have access.

I also believe that personalization will become much more sophisticated. All companies have been trying to improve personalization for years but we are still at the early stages. Leveraging data will make properties more sophisticated in terms of what they can offer customers. For instance, right now booking a hotel room you usually can choose between room types. Now imagine a future where we know the customer prefers a room on a low floor, near the gym – and can offer them that level of specificity.

Finally, the focus on sustainability will only accelerate. Properties are going to be motivated to respond by implementing technologies that reduce waste not only because customers are demanding it – but because it’s also good for the bottom line. Yanolja Cloud is committed to sustainability efforts. For instance, one of our solutions provides smart technology that remotely controls room environments to minimize unnecessary energy wastage, and reduces electricity and carbon emissions. We’ll continue to prioritize sustainability across our Yanolja Cloud Member companies so that the environmental benefits can be passed onto properties around the world. 

  • How does Yanolja plan to stay competitive and innovative in a rapidly evolving industry? 

Yanolja Cloud is made up of member companies from around the world, all with a different history and expertise. This gives us access to an incredible amount of data, technology and talent. Different travel markets evolve at different rates and being a global company allows us to bring technology from one company or region to another. 

For instance, for some time we’ve been offering automated check-in Kiosk technology in South Korea in response to South Korea’s aging population which is making it harder to find frontdesk workers. Only recently have other markets such as the United States encountered similar labor challenges and we plan to adopt and offer a check-in kiosk solution in the US market. Had we waited for that trend to reach the US before developing a solution – we would only now be developing this technology.  Having a global perspective gives us an advantage and the ability to think globally and act locally.

  • What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs looking to start a travel tech company?

I would like to give three pieces of advice to the entrepreneurs of travel-tech companies. The first is to recognize the fact that, despite economic crises, wars and epidemics, the tourism market has doubled every 15 years over the past 50 years so I believe in the sustainable growth potential of the travel and hospitality market. 

The second is that external management conditions such as the macro environment are difficult to predict and always fluctuate, but, regardless of this, technological innovation and disruption changes in one direction. I would like to believe that the changes in digital technology, such as the data-based AI like Chat GPT or the Metaverse and decentralization like blockchain or IoT, will only continue to accelerate in the future. 

Lastly, doing business and starting a business in an era of high uncertainty involves many risks, so entrepreneurs will have greater concerns. However, from the standpoint of a person working at a startup, it means that the size of success in times of high volatility is rather greater than that of those who seek stability. Thus, I hope that all the entrepreneurs will see the current difficult business conditions not as a deterrent, but as a greater opportunity to overcome difficulties together and succeed.

  • How do you balance your customers’ needs across different geographies and travel preferences within a single super app?

Travel used to be a supplier-centered market, but travel in this ‘new normal’ era is changing to become customer-centered. Travel restrictions due to the pandemic have made travelers more cautious and want to add more value to their trips. As personal circumstances and environmental changes diversify, it is becoming more important for travel companies to proactively respond to the increasingly diverse customer needs.

In line with these trends, Yanolja is continuously developing its platform based on a customer-first strategy. First, in terms of service, Yanolja provides all travel-related services as a super app. The company not only provides a variety of services, but also launches new specialized categories centered on core services that customers need and offers various information in a timely manner so they can prepare their entire trips with Yanolja, and enjoy the experience.

As there is a wide range of information and services, the key is to make the platform more intuitive and convenient. So, Yanolja develops the optimal UI and UX, exposes the final price during search and reservation, and quickly introduces various simple payment systems to ensure that all processes within the Yanolja application are seamlessly connected.

Yanolja is changing the paradigm of the travel industry by establishing an environment where everyone can travel comfortably through customer-oriented services and advanced usability.

  • How do Yanolja approaches localization and cultural differences when expanding into new markets? What differences have you seen over time across geographies?

The global nature of the Yanolja Cloud business is one of our biggest strengths. Not because we can offer one product everywhere but because we have an array of  products from around the world to meet local needs. Through a lineup of solutions built on industry expertise, the company provides solution products tailored to each customer’s specific environment, such as regional characteristics and scale of the property, and has rapidly increased market share in emerging tourism markets such as Africa and Asia. For instance, through Yanolja Cloud we offer Property Management Software (PMS) for hotels. While many of the core components of a PMS are the same, the solution can be customized to best serve the market and property they’re in. For instance, nuances like languages, currencies, integration with local distribution systems, payment preferences and adherence to local data and security standards all need to be considered to be a leading player. At the end of the day, technology should not replace but instead enhance the personal and human experience which makes travel so memorable.You can learn more about this, and other aspects of our business at

  • What are your plans for future growth and expansion, and how do you plan to achieve them?

Yanolja Cloud will play a key role in Yanolja’s global growth and expansion as we strive to lead the digital transformation of hospitality and leisure properties everywhere. That means properties of all types, sizes, and budget ranges – and in every corner of the world – so that everyone can undergo digital transformation and delight their guests.

To achieve that, if our teams around the world can build technology to meet the needs of our customers, we will build it. If meeting the needs of our customers can be better achieved by acquiring or partnering with a company to fill a gap in a market or segment – then we’ll seriously consider that,  too. 

Last year, we invested in Innkey Infosystems, a premium hotel solution company in India. Earlier this year, I joined President Seok-Yeol Yoon on a tour of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and signed strategic business agreements with ‘Al Rais Travel Group’ and ‘Wego Group’. And we’re just getting started.