Accenture executive partner Guido Haarmann said: ?An average 3% to 5% [margin] is not enough. Using other industries as a benchmark, we are talking about a high, single-digit profit margin for the big players.?

If the mergers proceed, both combined groups intend to list on the London Stock Exchange. But their earnings last year fell some way short of the suggested margin.

The TUI group reported profits of ?398 million on a turnover of ?4 billion for 2006 ? a margin of less than 3%.

Thomas Cook?s group profit of ?171 million on a turnover of ?7.78 billion gave it a margin of about 2.2% last year, and MyTravel reported a similar margin on group operations with a profit of ?62 million on revenue of ?2.8 billion.

In the UK, only First Choice achieved a margin of 5% with profits of ?135 million on a turnover of ?2.7 billion.

Haarmann told Travel Weekly: ?Many will say 5% is unrealistic. But this industry has to compare with the best practices in other industries in distribution, operations and procurement, not tomorrow, but in three to four years.?

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