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Korea’s Yanolja doubles down on ZEN Rooms to create future of hospitality in SE Asia

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ZEN Rooms, one of the leading economy and mid-range hotel franchises in Southeast Asia today, announced that it had signed a definitive agreement with travel group Yanolja regarding additional investment, acquisition of early investors’ stakes, and the signing of a wide strategic alliance. Yanolja is the leading travel group in South Korea, backed by Booking Holdings and GIC, among others. Yanolja was the lead strategic investor in the company’s US$15M funding round in 2018, with rights to invest further. Early investor Asia Internet Holdings (Joint Venture of Rocket Internet and Ooredoo Telecom) has agreed to exit its stake to Yanolja. RedBadge Pacific and SBI Korea remain investors, and Access Ventures join as co-investors.

The alliance of ZEN and Yanolja creates the leading economy and mid-range hospitality group in Southeast Asia. It combines ZEN’s top-rated budget hotel franchise business with Yanolja’s scale, hospitality technologies, and the backing by the global leader in online travel and booking holdings (behind Booking.com, Agoda, Priceline.com, Kayak etc.). This grants ZEN unique competitive advantages in both hotel technology and sales distribution. The groups will work to heavily deploy automation technology to enhance customer experience, further reduce  budget hotels’ operating costs, and reinvent budget hospitality across Southeast Asia.

ZEN Rooms is today one of the largest hotel franchises in Southeast Asia, with 13,000 rooms under franchise. Since Yanolja’s investment in mid 2018, ZEN has grown revenues 400% and became the largest hotel chain in fast-emerging Philippines in 2019, with 5,500 rooms under franchise. 

Today, Southeast Asia is the world’s fastest growing travel market, fueled by exponential domestic and regional demand of young travelers and millennials (e.g. the number of Chinese visitors has quadrupled in the past decade). Yet, the value-for-money proposition of its budget hotel sector has historically been defective, plagued by several issues: fragmentation, poor hygiene and safety standards, and lack of training and low technology use.

ZEN was founded in 2015 to improve the state of budget hospitality and bring much needed operational and technological efficiency to the estimated 2 million independent economy rooms in the region. Thousands of hotel owners have since joined ZEN’s franchises to improve their revenue, optimize their cost base, and increase the long-term value of their property. These efficiency gains ultimately benefit travelers who can enjoy safer and better value-for-money stays. 

With a deep emphasis on customer satisfaction, ZEN franchisees have enjoyed the best average guest ratings on Booking.com for two years in a row.

“We started ZEN exactly 4 years ago to make budget accommodation in Southeast Asia safer and more affordable. We have proudly built ZEN into the top-rated budget hotel franchise in the region and we are honored to be Yanolja’s 1st international investment. With this strategic alliance, we are joining forces with one of the most technologically innovative travel groups and its unique backers Booking Holdings to create the first full service budget and mid-range hospitality group in SEA. We can deploy world-class technology infrastructure in IoT R&D automation, hardware, and software to all hotels in Southeast Asia. This alliance will greatly benefit our ability to serve our hotel clients and ultimately the travelers of the entire region,” said Nathan Boublil, co-founder and CEO of ZEN. 

Jongyoon Kim, CEO of Online Business at Yanolja, also shared his thoughts on the agreement. “Since first investing in ZEN, we have shared the same vision of operational excellence and customer centricity to radically improve the Southeast Asian hospitality market. In the last 12 months, the ZEN team has taken major steps to fulfill this vision and has grown exponentially while displaying top inventory quality. With this exciting agreement, Yanolja plans to fully support ZEN to solidify its status as the market leading full-stack hospitality company in the region.”

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Planning your holiday getaway this ‘Ber-season? Filipinos are turning to hosting to fund their vacations

According to a recent survey of Airbnb’s Host community, over 25 percent of Filipino Hosts use the money they earn from hosting to go on vacation. Almost a quarter share their space with guests while traveling for vacation or work.

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The ‘Ber-months are finally here and for many, the holiday season couldn’t have come any sooner! With Christmas in the air, Filipinos are turning to hosting to fund their next holiday getaway.

According to a recent survey of Airbnb’s Host community, over 25 percent of Filipino Hosts use the money they earn from hosting to go on vacation. Almost a quarter share their space with guests while traveling for vacation or work.

With a simplified sign-up process to start hosting and more travelers eager to travel and stay for longer than ever before, there’s never been a more opportune time to share your space and fund your next vacation.

Airbnb Hosts enjoy the perks of being hosted

As an Airbnb Host of more than five years and one of the country’s most highly rated Superhosts, Emily Avelino shares that since listing her family’s Cabin in the Clouds and Blackbird Hill Home in Tanay, Rizal, they have been able to save up for overseas trips to visit family. 

“Recently, we were able to visit immediate family in the USA, which we had not been able to do in the past few years. Hosting our properties on Airbnb also allowed us to save up and travel abroad, and share many memorable milestones with the family including road trips, birthdays and long-awaited reunions,” Emily recounted. For her, getting the chance to spend time and create memories with loved ones has been her biggest plus from hosting aside from the additional financial empowerment.

Dwyane Yra Dinglasan, who oversees her family’s Nasugbu Tali Vacation Home, is another popular Airbnb Host and one of Airbnb’s top hosts under 30 in APAC. She too has enjoyed the many benefits of Hosting, including discovering the Philippines’ very own must-see travel spots.

“With the additional income from my Airbnb listing, I now have the opportunity to travel and visit new places in the Philippines — places I would not have been able to go without the extra income. It’s a great opportunity to get to experience new things,” Dwayne shared. “It’s always great to stay in extremely beautiful homes when vacationing in the Philippines, and to get to live different lifestyles is very refreshing. These experiences along with being able to make new friends and meet new people are definitely memorable!”

Just like Dwayne, many more Filipinos are also finding new local destinations that are off-the-beaten-path but nonetheless equally exquisite. According to Airbnb data,  over 60 cities and towns in the Philippines received their first-ever Airbnb bookings since March 2020.

Using Airbnb’s What’s My Place Worth Tool2, here are some luxurious getaways that you can book for your loved ones this upcoming festive season by hosting with Airbnb.

Host a month in Makati, and enjoy a luxurious villa for a weekend in Guagua, Pampanga

If you host an entire unit or property in Metro Manila, your potential monthly income of Php40,0002 could cover a 3-day stay for a group of six at the beautiful Planta Betis Family Villas in Guagua. This serene, expansive stay offers everything you would need for a weekend staycation, from a private pool to an al fresco lanai and dining area, and special access to two restaurants on-property.

Host a week in Batangas, and enjoy two nights in a Central Visayas treehouse

Hosting your property in Batangas or in the Calabarzon area could earn an average of Php2,200 a night2. A week’s hosting could  cover a weekend stay for five in the iconic Treehouse de Valentine in Balamban, Central Visayas. Nestled within a quiet forest, this luxurious rustic treehouse is the perfect hideaway from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Host a private room for a month in Quezon City, and enjoy five nights of glamping in Bulacan

Hosting a private room in Quezon City on Airbnb could generate approximately Php18,800 a month2 – equivalent to five nights of glamping for a group of five at The Backyard Glamp in Doña Remedios Trinidad, Bulacan. This unique, off-beat stay offers the ultimate glamping experience fully equipped with a pool, grill, and bonfire area.

Host for two weeks in Cebu, and enjoy an overnight beachside stay in Davao

Hosting in Cebu City could earn you an average of Php1,770 a night2, and two weeks of hosting could enable you to book one overnight stay for nine pax in a Private Beach House Above The Sea in Davao. This breathtaking space offers a stunning view of both Mount  Apo and the sea, with direct access to the beach for swimming.

Eager to learn more about becoming an Airbnb Host? You can get free one-on-one help from an Airbnb Superhost at https://www.airbnb.com/askasuperhost, and find more useful tips and information at airbnb.com/host.

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Airbnb data shows how tourism has dispersed post-pandemic

In the Philippines, almost half of local Airbnb hosts surveyed said their earnings have helped them navigate rising costs of living including housing, daily necessities, and home improvement needs.

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As the travel rebound continues to unfold, the benefits of tourism are spreading across the Asia Pacific. In Southeast Asia, new analysis by Airbnb reveals that the resurgence in domestic and inbound tourism is empowering locals to earn a living and make ends meet.

With people continuing to embrace flexible new approaches to travel and living, communities that have traditionally missed out in the past are increasingly well-positioned to secure a bigger slice of the tourism pie, according to new Airbnb report Further Afield: Spreading the Benefits of the Travel Revolution’. Across the region, this has presented fresh opportunities for locals looking to supplement their income as they grapple with rising costs of living.

Across the Asia Pacific, Airbnb nights booked in non-urban areas have increased in South Korea (up more than 180 percent ), India (up about 140 percent), and Australia (up about 60 percent) in Q2 2022 as compared to Q2 2019. In Southeast Asia, searches for stays in Siquijor in the Philippines surged by more than 280 percent while searches for Marang in Malaysia almost doubled.

The typical earnings for non-urban Hosts increased correspondingly in the same period for a number of destinations. In Australia and South Korea, typical host earnings have more than doubled as travel returned in full force. In the Philippines, almost half of local Airbnb hosts surveyed said their earnings have helped them navigate rising costs of living including housing, daily necessities, and home improvement needs.

Not only are travelers eyeing destinations off the beaten path, they’re also looking to stay longer. Notably,nights booked for long-term stays (stays longer than 28 days) in non-urban areas approximately doubled in popular travel and remote working hotspot Thailand in Q2 2022, up from Q2 2019 pre-pandemic.

In Southeast Asia, a number of destinations outside major metropolitan hubs were popular  among travelers on Airbnb for long-term stays in Q2 2022. Examples included:

  • Dapa, Panglao, Dumaguete and Silang in the Philippines
  • Ipoh, Kuah, Semenyih, and Port Dickson in Malaysia
  • Koh Pha Ngan, Koh Lanta and Krabi in Thailand

Mich Goh, Airbnb’s Head of Public Policy for Southeast Asia, India, Hong Kong and Taiwan, said: “More than two years since the start of the pandemic, we continue to see fundamental shifts in travel that are creating new opportunities for off-the-beaten-track communities. It’s incredibly exciting to see travelers so enthusiastic about exploring new destinations, as well as the positive economic impact cascading to locals.

“The increasing popularity of Dapa, Panglao, Dumaguete and Silang reinforce the importance of the Department of Tourism’s plans to drive tourism development in the countryside and promote lesser-known destinations.  We are committed to continuing to work together with governments and stakeholders to keep inspiring travelers to step off the beaten path, and help ensure more communities can share in the benefits of tourism.”

In addition to encouraging travelers to explore further afield through innovative search tools such as Categories and I’m Flexible, Airbnb remains committed to partnering with governments and communities in Southeast Asia, including in the Philippines. The company has partnered with Thailand and Indonesia’s tourism authorities on a range of ‘Live and Work Anywhere’ initiatives to attract global digital nomads and remote workers, as part of broader efforts to drive inbound tourism as travel returns.

Forward-Looking Statements

This press release contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of the “safe harbor” provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 about us and our industry that involve substantial risks and uncertainties. All statements other than statements of historical facts contained in this press release, including, but not limited to, statements regarding travel trends, the travel industry and the future of travel, the behavior of Hosts and guests and about our future performance, prospects, plans and objectives are forward-looking statements.

In some cases, you can identify forward-looking statements because they contain words such as “may,” “will,” “plan,” “expect,” “could,” “potential,” “objective,” or “continues” or the negative of these words or other similar terms or expressions that concern our expectations. Although we believe that we have a reasonable basis for each forward-looking statement contained in this press release, we cannot guarantee that the future results, levels of activity, or events and circumstances reflected in the forward-looking statements will be achieved or occur at all.

Forward-looking statements are subject to a number of known and unknown risks, uncertainties, assumptions, and other factors that may cause actual results to differ materially from the objectives expressed or implied in this press release. Therefore, you should not rely upon forward-looking statements as predictions of future events. Important factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those indicated in the forward-looking statements include, but are not limited to, the effects and duration of the evolving COVID-19 pandemic on us, the travel industry, travel trends, and the global economy generally; any further and continued decline or disruption in the travel and hospitality industries or economic downturn; changes in political, business, and economic conditions, including current geopolitical tensions and regional instability; and the other risks listed or described from time to time in Airbnb’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”), including Airbnb’s Annual Report on Form 10-K for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2021, Quarterly Report on Form 10-Q for the quarter ended March 31, 2022 and subsequent Form 10-Qs and Form 8-Ks, which are, or will be, on file with the SEC and available on the investor relations page of Airbnb’s website.

All forward-looking statements speak only as of the date of this press release and are based on information and estimates available to us as of the date of this press release. We expressly disclaim any obligation to update or revise any information contained in this press release, except as required by law.

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Destinations

Exploring the largest cave system in the Philippines

Caves are underground chambers, usually situated in mountains, hills or cliffs. Generations of imaginative fear-mongers have made them the home of everything from treasure-hoarding dragons to a whip-wielding Balrog. In reality, caves are special ecosystems which need our protection, particularly from unscrupulous miners who would break apart tons of rock for a handful of precious stones.

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By Gregg Yan

The Philippines has over 3100 known caves. Featuring 12 chambers over its seven kilometer span, the Langun-Gobingob Cave in Samar is the king of them all. Discovered by Italian Guido Rossi in 1987, it was opened to the public in 1990.

We recently explored it to celebrate the Year of the Protected Areas or YOPA, which aims not just to convince people to conserve the country’s 246 protected areas, but to encourage them to visit the sites themselves.

Caves are underground chambers, usually situated in mountains, hills or cliffs. Generations of imaginative fear-mongers have made them the home of everything from treasure-hoarding dragons to a whip-wielding Balrog. In reality, caves are special ecosystems which need our protection, particularly from unscrupulous miners who would break apart tons of rock for a handful of precious stones.

Unique But Threatened Biodiversity

Samar Island, overshadowed by more popular places like Palawan and Boracay, isn’t usually considered a top tourist destination, owing to its long history as a hotbed for insurgencies and a punching bag for typhoons. Though the Philippines’ thirdlargest island exudes rugged beauty, its real value as an ecotourism destination lies beneath the earth.

“Samar is unique because it is a karst landscape made primarily of limestone. Millions of years of weathering has created numerous caves and sinkholes on the island,” explains Anson Tagtag, head of the Caves, Wetlands and Other Ecosystems Division of the DENR. “Caves are special ecosystems which harbor highly-evolved fauna, most of which have adapted to darkness.”

Birds, bats, spiders, snakes, crickets and even blind cave fish thrive inside the Langun-Gobingob Cave. The lack of light confines plants to entrances, but mushrooms and other types of fungi cling to life as discreet denizens of the dark.

“The speleothems or rocks in caves are in a very real sense ‘alive’ – they just grow and move at timescales difficult for people to comprehend,” explains Dr. Allan Gil Fernando, a professor at the National Institute of Geological Sciences in UP Diliman. “The constant dripping of water for instance leaves minute traces of minerals like calcite. Over time these traces pile up to form hanging stalactites and their inverted kin, stalagmites. It takes about a century for a stalactite or stalagmite to grow one inch.”

It is because of their surreal beauty that many caves are sundered.

“People used to enter the Langun-Gobingob Cave to break apart and mine stalagmites plus white calcite rocks for collectors,” says Samar Island Natural Park (SINP) Assistant Superintendent Eires Mate. Our guide Alvin confirms this. “Locals used to mine the cave for Taiwanese businessmen, who paid a paltry PHP7 for a kilogram of rock. Balinsasayao or swiftlet nests were plucked out too, to be shipped to Chinese markets.”

The cave was finally declared a protected area in 1997. “Thank God for legal protection. Mining was effectively stopped,” says Eires. The Langun-Gobingob Cave is just one of many natural systems benefiting from the country’s protected area system.

“Declaring key biodiversity sites as protected areas is one of the best ways to ensure that future generations can continue enjoying their beauty,” says United Nations Development Programme Biodiversity Finance Initiative (UNDP-BIOFIN) Manager Anabelle Plantilla. “Visitors should positively support local communities but be mindful of the environmental impacts of their travels. They should for instance, avoid taking wild plants or leaving trash in tourist sites.”

Year of the Protected Areas

Launched in May of 2022, YOPA hopes to generate funds from tourists to ensure the continued management of protected areas hard-hit by COVID-19 budget cuts.

The Langun-Gobingob Cave is part of the Samar Island Natural Park (SINP), one of YOPA’s six highlighted parks, the others being the Bongsanglay Natural Park in Masbate, Apo Reef Natural Park in Occidental Mindoro, Balinsasayao Twin Lakes Natural Park in Negros Oriental, Mt. Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary in Davao Oriental, and Mt. Timpoong Hibok-Hibok Natural Monument in Camiguin.

The country’s caves are now open for tourism, but visitors should know what not to do inside them. “Cave tourism should be well managed and there are cave do’s and don’ts,” says Buddy Acenas from the GAIA Exploration Club, a Manila-based caving and exploration group. “A comprehensive assessment should be conducted before a cave is opened for tourism. Trained guides and set trails should be used to minimize human impacts. Like so many of our fragile wilderness areas, caves must be stewarded by those visiting them.”

For its part, the Philippine government is doing what it can to promote responsible tourism. “Our caves, mountains, beaches and other protected areas are now open for tourism. We invite both Filipinos and foreigners to come and visit, but to do so in an environmentally-responsible manner,” adds DENR-BMB Director Natividad Bernardino. “By practicing responsible and regenerative tourism in PAs, we’re helping our national parks flourish and recover from the economic blow they suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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