Switzerland’s biggest travel group, Kuoni, said net income more than doubled last year to SFr64.6 million ($50.7 million), boosted by the sale of a business travel unit.
The company said bookings were up 15 per cent so far this year, adding to hope that the travel sector may be recovering after a difficult couple of years.
"Despite the extraordinary profit (from the business unit sale), I think we have done rather well... I consider the result we show today as a rather good result given the circumstances," Kuoni chief executive Hans Lerch told swissinfo.
Earnings before interest tax and amortisation (EBITA) fell 15.2 per cent to SFr102.4 million as sales fell 11.9 per cent to SFr3.3 billion.
The profit beat forecasts: analysts had expected net income of SFr56.5 million.
"The result is better than expected on the earnings level. Also outlook is solid, with bookings up 15 per cent on the year," said Claude Zehnder at Zurich Cantonal Bank.
"It brings some hope that it could be a good year."
Kuoni, which is Europe’s sixth-biggest travel firm, has been focusing on its leisure travel business.
An overambitious dip into Scandinavia prompted restructuring and writedowns in 2002.
It sold its business travel unit BTI Central Europe to Britain’s Hogg Robinson in December for SFr44.1 million.
The sale cut Kuoni’s 7,500 staff by around 20 per cent.
The Zurich-based firm also announced on Thursday that it was selling its 49 per cent stake in TUI Switzerland to the German-based parent company, TUI. Financial details were not disclosed.
"Following two very difficult years for the global economy in general and the tourism industry in particular, there are signs that an upswing is on the way in 2004," Kuoni said in a statement.
"The group's clear focus on leisure travel and continuing emphasis on stringent cost management put it in an excellent position to secure further success going forward."
Kuoni said its net income, excluding proceeds from the BTI sale, halved last year as travellers stayed at home because of the war in Iraq, the Sars virus and concerns about the economy.
Shares in Kuoni have risen 6.4 per cent this year, after gaining almost 60 per cent in 2003.
swissinfo with agencies
Bookings are up 15% so far this year compared with the same period in 2003.
Kuoni announced the sale of its 49% stake in TUI Switzerland.
Kuoni is proposing a dividend of SFr7 per share – up from SFr3 in 2002.
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