More than half of UK tour operators are confident in the industry despite unrest in the domestic and world markets, according to business analyst Plimsoll.

This finding was driven by a group of 102 companies – out of 1,000 analysed – which increased sales by an average of 18% in the last year and lifted their profitability from 2.2% to 4.8%.

Among the ‘elite’ tour operators are All Leisure Holidays, with a sales growth of 28.9% to the period ending October 2006, and Esprit Holidays with a 24.7% growth.

Plimsoll senior analyst David Pattison said: “With all the talk of a slowdown in the UK economy, the figures from this elite group of companies are really refreshing. “The most efficient companies are continuing to profit despite difficult conditions.”

However, 73 of the companies assessed are failing to cope with the challenging market. Pattison added: “Some of them will struggle to survive if, as expected, the wider economic pressure results in a bumpy ride during the next six months for UK business in general.”

Federation of Tour Operators director-general AndyCooper said: “The last couple of months have been strong for the market and that is encouraging optimism.

“What customers are buying and how they are buying it has changed dramatically in the past five years, and these successful businesses are making the necessary changes to their distribution model and product range.”

Bales Worldwide sales director Iain Fenton said flexibility is key. He said: “It is a challenging environment but people are still prepared to pay for what they value. Mid- June onwards was very strong for us with an average sale worth £2,500 per person.

“People want to feel they’ve created their own holiday and now 40% of our business is tailor-made.”