Kuoni Group has cautioned over a “persistently difficult market environment” while delivering increased net profits for the first nine months of the year.

Net income rose to 14.7 Swiss francs from 12.3 million Swiss francs for the same period last year.

The operator recorded sales growth of 3.3% in what was described as a “challenging” market, especially in Europe.

Operating profit (EBIT) came in at 113.2 million Swiss francs after costs including the integration of GTA acquired from Travelport against 80.6 million Swiss francs a year earlier.

Operating profit from the group’s UK and Benelux division in the nine months ending September was down to 2.1 million Swiss francs from 6.6 million Swiss francs.

Third quarter operating earnings for the UK and Benelux more than halved from 8.8 million Swiss francs in the summer peak last year to 4.3 million Swiss francs this year

Quarterly turnover for the division. which includes Kuoni UK. was down to 145 million Swiss francs from 178 million Swiss francs.

“Continued poor consumer sentiment in the UK and Benelux also weighed down on the division’s results,” Kuoni said.

“The fall in turnover was caused by exchange rate factors and made worse by the continuing difficult economic situation in the UK and the Benelux countries. This had in both markets a negative impact on the results.”

Chief executive Peter Rothwell said: “Kuoni’s strong position in the growing market for destination management services and in the visa services sector and in Scandinavia have had another positive effect on results in the third quarter of 2011.

“In an environment marked by numerous negative external factors, we are pleased to have posted improved results for the first nine months of the year.

“They underline the effectiveness of Kuoni Group’s portfolio, with its strong focus on asset-light travel services in the growing FIT business and Asia.”

He added: “The European debt crisis, global fears of recessions and the geopolitical upheavals in North Africa are affecting consumer sentiment and travel trends in many markets.

“At the same time, however, growth figures in the Asian source markets, especially in the destinations division and at VFS Global, offer much promise.

“The new group structure is enabling more effective exploitation of synergies in European tour operating, while the other two divisions are focusing on growth in emerging countries, especially Asia, in global FIT and in VFS’s [administrative consular servies] business.”

The market environment continues to be difficult, but turnover of around 5 billion Swiss francs is still expected for the 2011 financial year as a whole, the group said.

“Despite much lower volatility of the Swiss franc against Kuoni’s key currencies, exchange rates are still having a negative year-on-year effect on Kuoni’s results, which are presented in Swiss francs.”