WH Smith bets on North America, travel recovery to boost growth

By Eva Mathews

(Reuters) -WH Smith is betting on new store openings in North America and the ongoing travel recovery in Asia and Europe to lift growth in the coming year, the British airport retailer’s top boss said on Thursday.

Leisure and business travel have rebounded since pandemic restrictions ended, boosting sales at transit locations. Consumers ready to splurge their savings on travel, are also prepared to pay for paperback novels or treats to make their trips more enjoyable.

The group – which runs stores in airports and train stations, selling everything from books and sandwiches to Bluetooth headphones – has not seen an impact on footfall amid cost-of-living pressures, CEO Carl Cowling said in an interview.

WH Smith also plans to open another 50 stores in the fast-growing North America region over the next 12 months.

For the first nine weeks of the current financial year, the company’s revenue in North America was up 15%, while UK sales have grown 13%.

“The Asian travel market is still down quite significantly, and Europe and UK is down too, so there’s still a lot of growth from passenger numbers and a broader travel recovery would not fully happen until probably the middle of next year,” Cowling said.

The high-street retailer reported a pre-tax profit of 143 million pounds ($175.63 million) for the year ended Aug. 31, compared with analysts’ expectations of 142.9 million pounds, according to a company-compiled consensus.

“The upswing in footfall at train stations and in airports has brought brisk business, offsetting weakness in the company’s more traditional shopping locations,” said Susannah Streeter, head of money and markets at Hargreaves Lansdown.

Shares of WH Smith were up 1% to 1,201 pence by 0850 GMT.

($1 = 0.8142 pounds)

(Reporting by Eva Mathews in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu and Sonia Cheema)