WH Smith eyes scores more travel site openings amid pandemic recovery

WH Smith has managed to return to profit in recent months, thanks to a recovery in trading at its travel shops following the lifting of Covid restrictions.

Before tax, profit was £18 million in the six months to the end of February, compared with a £38m loss in the same period a year earlier.

The group’s travel business, which runs outlets in airports and railway stations, reported a 125 per cent rise in revenue to £338m over the six months.

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Chief executive Carl Cowling said: “The group has delivered a good performance, with a strong rebound in profitability.

“We have seen a recovery across all our travel markets despite the impact of the Omicron variant in Q2, and we are in a strong position to capture growth as the recovery continues.”

During the first few months of the financial year travel had been steadily improving, but was hit by the emergence of Omicron.

The 230-year-old newsagent and book seller said it continued trading and anticipated that the variant’s impact would be short-lived.

“Since February, as travel restrictions have been further eased, we have seen the recovery in our travel markets continue, with a strong performance over the Easter holiday period,” it said.

WH Smith's travel business, which runs outlets in airports and railway stations, was hit badly by lockdowns and travel restrictions but has seen a strong rebound in recent weeks.

Bosses said they plan to invest in new travel shops as the market recovers and have 125 new sites in the pipeline.

Revenue from WH Smith’s high street shops remained unchanged at £270m.

“Our high street business delivered a resilient and profitable performance in the period, despite the challenges facing the UK high street,” Cowling added. “Looking ahead, we continue to invest in the business where we see attractive growth opportunities.”

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Julie Palmer, partner at business advisory group Begbies Traynor, said: “Foreign holidays are back and WH Smith is reaping the rewards of cashed-up consumers who are ready to get away and open their wallets as they wait for flights in the company’s airport branches, the best-performing part of its portfolio in pre-pandemic times.

“The chaos at airports, which are struggling to recruit and train staff, and airlines facing similar issues, as we saw over Easter, only plays into WH Smith’s hands.”

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WH Smith eyes return to profit amid travel rebound and high street revival

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