WH Smith shares were buoyed by sales surpassing 2019 levels for the first time since the start of the pandemic, as its travel division recovery continued its post-Covid momentum.

Group revenues in the 15 weeks to 11 June were 7% ahead of 2019 levels thanks to “a particularly strong” performance from the travel sector.

Third-quarter sales in the travel arm of airport and railway stores raced 23% higher than two years ago, compared with 19% behind in the second quarter. The UK travel operation nudged 4% ahead in the quarter as the group enhanced its ranges and developed categories, such as health & beauty and technology.

WH Smith reported its performance at UK airports was 14% better than in 2019, though railway stores remained 13% behind.

In North America, its travel arm grew 11% faster than in 2019, while the rest of the world lagged 12% behind. However, WH Smith said it was seeing a recovery across all markets, including Asia and Australia.

The group’s UK-focused high street stores continued to be a drag on growth, as sales stood at only 79% of 2019 levels – lower than the 84% reached in the second quarter.

WH Smith noted it benefited from “a good performance” from its Platinum Jubilee ranges, but its headline third-quarter figures included the impact of the cyberattack on its online card platform Funky Pigeon.

Looking ahead, the retailer expressed confidence that the strong performance in its travel division would be maintained across the peak summer trading period, with 125 new stores set to open globally. As a result, the group guided its profits for the year would be at the higher end of City expectations.

Edison Group director of research Neil Shah hailed a “solid and promising” trading update, noting a strong pipeline of new business wins in the US. “As passenger numbers recover around the world, WH Smith will look to enhance its ranges in health & beauty and technology to capitalise on post-lockdown opportunities,” he said.

AJ Bell investment director Russ Mould added: “The fact that WH Smith believes its full year results will be at the higher end of expectations comes as surprise given the difficult backdrop for consumer spending. Most retailers are being very cautious about their outlook, so it’s welcome turn of events that WH Smith can be upbeat, albeit recognising the uncertain economic outlook.”

WH Smith shares closed on Wednesday up 8.5% to 1,474p following the upbeat guidance, but remain well down on their pre-Covid levels of 2,400p.