WHSmith has recorded a fall in sales over the Christmas trading period but has stressed it does not expect the Omnicron variant to derail its travel sales recovery.

WHSmith building in Holborn

WHSmith posted a 15% decline in sales across the group on a two-year basis in the 20 weeks to January 17, exacerbated by a steep decline in sales across its travel division in December as the Omicron variant hampered revenue growth across the division.

Sales across the retailer’s high street division fell 13% during the 20-week period overall, which the retailer said was in line with expectations and “a good performance, despite reduced footfall”. 

WHSmith’s travel sales declined 17% across the 20-week period overall, but were down just 6% on pre-pandemic levels in November, before diving down to 17% down on a two-year basis in December.

Prior to the decline in December triggered by the emergence of the Omicron variant, WHSmith said it “saw a consistent and encouraging recovery in our key travel markets”, adding that “subject to no further restrictions, our travel markets will recover further through the Spring”.

Chief executive Carl Cowling said: “We are pleased with the progress the group has made in the period.

“In travel, we have focused on our strategic objectives of increasing customer conversion, growing average transaction value and winning new space, all of which continue to deliver good results. We have now opened 16 of the recently won InMotion technology stores in UK airports and are pleased with their performance. Our strong track record of winning new tenders in the US continues, with a significant nine-store win at Kansas airport.

“Our high street business performed well, in line with our expectations, with our online businesses delivering strong performances.”