WH Smith leads the retail pack into travel hubs.

WH Smith leads the retail pack into travel hubs.

WH Smith is enjoying significant growth within its stores located within travel hubs that are now powering its sales and profits as it increasingly taps into this incredibly buoyant part of the retail landscape.


At its half-year results the company reported that its travel division – comprising stores around the world within airports and rail stations – represented over 70% of group sales and 85% of its profits as it benefited from strong recovery in passenger numbers post-pandemic.


Carl Cowing, CEO of WH Smith, says: “We have seen a strong performance in the first half of the year further strengthening our confidence in the prospects of our global travel business.”


He highlighted that the company had opened 62 new travel stores in the first six-month period of the financial year and that a pipeline of 120 outlets had already been built up for the next three years. To help fuel its ongoing growth in travel Cowing says the company is developing new store formats and extending into new categories including health & beauty, technology, food-to-go and pharmacy products.


WH Smith’s tech-focused store format continues to expand across UK airports and it has opened its first unit, selling high-end souvenirs, in the UK initially at the two Gatwick terminals and St Pancras International train station.


Speaking about the move into food Cowing says: “We have made excellent progress developing our food offer. By introducing new premium third-party brands such as Yo! Sushi, Crussh and M&S, and by adding more chiller space in air and rail locations, we are delivering a significant uplift in this category with food sales up 54% versus 2019.”


These moves by players like WH Smith into food within travel locations is reflected in the high level of operators currently expanding their presence in airport and rail hubs around the world. Within the UK these include Greggs, Puccino’s, FCB Coffee and Vagabond wine bars. The latter opened its first travel unit in Heathrow airport last year and such has been its success that a prime site is due to open in Gatwick this year along with a sister unit called South Downs that will focus on English wine. 


New to the travel category is Breakfast Club that has partnered with travel specialist SSP to open a number of units, which will begin with the brand’s first restaurant in Gatwick airport this year. Breakfast Club along with WH Smith and the other operators flocking to travel hubs can expect to enjoy trade from increasing passenger numbers that continue to climb back towards pre-Covid-19 levels and then potentially beyond.