WHSmith finally got back to growth this Christmas after years of depressed sales during the Covid pandemic, the business has revealed.
The company said that its travel business has reached its “strongest ever position” as its business unit bounced back from the crisis.
Bosses said on Wednesday that WHSmith’s revenue was 41% higher over the the 20 weeks to January 14 compared to the same period a year earlier.
Even compared to Christmas 2019, sales were up by a fifth, the business said.
But the difference between the “strongest ever” travel unit was stark next to WHSmith’s high street shops.
The high street has struggled in recent weeks with sales down 2% compared to the year before, which was impacted by Covid.
Compared to the Covid-free high street in 2019 sales were down by 14% in high street shops, bosses said.
“The group has made a strong start to the financial year, with our global travel retail business growing strongly across all regions,” said chief executive Carl Cowling.
“Our strategy to transform our customer offer continues at pace through broadening our categories and expanding our ranges, to include health and beauty and tech accessories, and is underpinned by a forensic approach to retail.”
The business opened more than 40 new shops around the world and won the right to run sites at Reagan National airport in Washington and Palm Springs airport as well as three new sites in Rome Fiumicino airport.
Mr Cowling said: “The group is in its strongest ever position as a global travel retailer. This strength, combined with the ongoing improvement in passenger numbers across the globe, means that we are confident of another year of significant growth in 2023.”
UK sales rose 70% year-on-year in the UK, 31% in North America and 198% in the rest of the world.
The only part of the UK travel business that struggled during the period was the company’s shops in train stations.
Rail revenue was down 13% compared to 2019 and its 24% rise compared to last year was much slimmer than the increases seen in WHSmith shops in hospitals and airports.