WHSmith’s growing travel arm offset a poorer performance from high street stores over Christmas.

WHSmith reported flat total sales in the 20 weeks to January 20, when like-for-likes fell 1%.

Total sales at the 225-year-old retail chain’s high street arm fell 5%, and like-for-likes slipped 4%.

Lower sales of high margin “spoof humour books” this Christmas compared to last contributed to the decline.

Growing travel arm

WHSmith’s travel division delivered a 7% sales gain and 3% like-for-like growth.

The retailer said there was good sales growth across all key channels.

New large stores at Gatwick and Stansted airports opened in the period and were said to be performing well. A further 15 travel outlets are planned for the UK this year.

Travel now accounts for almost two-thirds of the group’s annual profits.

WHSmith chief executive Stephen Clarke said: “While there is some uncertainty in the broader economic environment, we remain confident that the group is well positioned for the year ahead as we continue to focus on profitable growth, cash generation and investing in new opportunities.”

WHSmith revealed it now expected full-year cost savings from its cost efficiency programme to amount to around £12m, slightly ahead of target.