SoftBank Group Corp.’s Vision Fund II is investing about $1.7 billion in Yanolja Co., giving South Korea’s largest travel app extra capital ahead of an initial public offering.

The Seoul-based startup said it plans to use the money to expand geographically and push efforts to bring digital technologies to the travel and hospitality industry. The deal will boost Yanolja’s valuation to more than 10 trillion won ($9 billion), according to people familiar with the matter. The company declined to comment on the latest valuation and the amount of stake that SoftBank will acquire.

SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son has been expanding his investments in South Korea, a strategy that paid off as Coupang Inc. pulled off the country’s largest IPO in more than a decade. The e-commerce giant helped SoftBank post the highest profit ever for a Japanese company in May, and paved the way for a wave of Korean startup debuts from PUBG-developer Krafton Inc. to Kakao Pay.

“South Korea could be one of the many markets that are diversifying Softbank’s geographic exposure,” said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Anthea Lai. “The country’s advance in mobile connectivity definitely helps strengthen SVF’s investment thesis there.”

Shares of Yanolja’s investor SBI Investment Korea Co. soared 13% in Seoul, while another investor, AJU IB Investment Co., gained 5.3%.

Yanolja, founded by former motel manager Lee Su-jin in 2005 originally as a short-stay hotel-booking service, is hoping to tap resurgent interest in Korea’s tech scene. SoftBank’s Vision Fund invested $2.7 billion in Coupang and the value of that stake in the e-commerce company grew more than 10 times to $28 billion at the end of March after the IPO.

Yanolja has considered a dual listing in Seoul and overseas, Bloomberg News has reported. It announced in November it’s selected Mirae Asset Daewoo Co. as a lead arranger along with Samsung Securities Co. as a co-underwriter with a goal to go public this year. The startup, which is also the world’s largest property management software provider after Oracle Corp., is still exploring options and the size and location of its IPO haven’t been finalized.

Backed by Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC Pte and Booking Holdings Inc., Yanolja has been expanding its business to include leisure activities and transport along with hotel bookings. With its acquisition of Indian lodgings management platform eZee Technosys in 2019, the startup says it is now the world’s largest cloud-based hotel management solution provider. Despite COVID-19 lockdowns, it reported a 44% increase in sales and a 16.1 billion won profit for 2020.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.