Germany: Marking the Turn of the Century

Germany will mark the turn of the century by hosting a World Exposition in Hannover and the renowned Passion Play in Oberammergau. Tour operators are already developing packages and products for both. These events are expected to attract substantial numbers of visitors, putting a squeeze on available hotel capacity in those areas.

In the southern German state of Bavaria, performances of the Oberammergau Passion Play will be held on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays from late May through September in the year 2000. As one of Europe's most renowned examples of traditional pageantry, it always draws thousands of visitors to the mountainous region where it is held.

The passion play is generally presented once every 10 years, although a special series was produced in 1984 in recognition of the event's 350th anniversary.

Carl Hoechner, chairman of Miami-based Oberammergau Tours, said North American visitors traditionally account for almost one-third of the audience at the Passion Play. He predicts that in 2000, North America could account for as many as 180,000 to 200,000 attendees over the course of the summer.

His company has been selling Oberammergau 2000 since October 1995, Hoechner said, with several thousand persons already under deposit.

Because of the play's religious theme -- it is a recreation of the life and death of Jesus Christ -- and because the year 2000 has also been declared a Holy Year by the Pope, many Catholic tourists are likely to visit Rome in conjunction with Oberammergau, and several tour operators are planning combined programs accordingly.

Hoechner said his company has a three-night Oberammergau 2000 package priced at 1,298 Deutschmarks (about $752) that agents and tour operators can purchase as a separate module to insert in their own Europe programs.

It includes one day and night in Munich with dinner and sightseeing; transportation to and from Oberammergau, with two nights' accommodations there and tickets to a performance of the play.

Oberammergau Tours also offers a variety of other packages, and can build customized itineraries for special groups.

The company quotes prices only in marks because of uncertainty about the exchange rate three years from now; agents who book packages put down a $250 deposit per person and pay the balance eight to 10 weeks before departure, Hoechner said.

According to the German National Tourist Office, other companies planning Oberammergau packages are DER Travel Services, Rosemont, Ill.; Goodspeed & Bach, Jackson Heights, N.Y.; Pleasure Break Vacations, Rolling Meadows, Ill., and Value Travel, Mequon, Wis.

Expo 2000 in the northern German city of Hannover will be devoted to the themes "Mankind-Nature-Technology," with exhibits, displays and projects designed to explore the 21st century relationship between humanity, the natural world and new scientific achievements.

This World Exposition, the first ever held in Germany, is scheduled for June 1 through Oct. 31, 2000, at the Hannover Fairgrounds.

To date, 155 nations have signed on to participate in the event, said Reinhard Volk, CEO of Expo Hannover 2000 GmbH, the public-private sector partnership that is organizing the event.

It is expected to attract tens of thousands of visitors every day during its five-month duration; in addition to the special exhibits and displays, the Expo 2000 agenda will include some 15,000 artistic, cultural, entertainment and sporting events.

Organizers said they expect many Expo visitors to tour the regions around Hannover, including the historic towns of Braunschweig, Goslar, Celle, Luneburg, Hildesheim and Hamelin.

Expo 2000 officials appointed AAA as its official tourist agency in the U.S., and General Tours of Keene, N.H. has been selected as general sales agent.

General Tours president Bob Drumm said his company will create private-label Expo 2000 packages for AAA that should be introduced by the end of this year. Also in the works, he said, is an 800 number that consumers and travel agents will be able to call for information about the Expo.

Drumm said General Tours will offer all agents "a full range of products" that include a visit to Expo 2000, ranging from escorted tours of northern Germany to independent packages in cooperation with Hertz and other suppliers.

Although ticket prices haven't yet been announced, a full-day ticket for entrance to the Expo will probably be priced under $50, said Ralph Jarrett, director of tourism and ticketing for the event.

He added that the variety of tickets will range from partial-day admissions up to seven-day versions, and that German Federal Railways will be selling combined rail/Expo 2000 tickets all over Germany that include roundtrip transportation and admission to the event.

Agents looking for space can contact the Expo 2000 office directly by fax at (011) 49-511 840-4480, e-mail [email protected]

The Web site address is www.expo2000.de.

To accommodate a visitor total that could reach as high as 40 million during the summer of the year 2000, the city of Hannover is expanding its airport and building a new rail station at its fairgrounds.

The new train station will be able to accommodate high-speed Inter-City Express (ICE) trains that will be running into the city for the Expo.

Most of the visitors to the Expo -- estimated at 300,000 a day -- will have to overnight elsewhere, Jarrett said, since Hannover only has about 25,000 hotel rooms, plus another 25,000 or so in private homes and B&Bs.

But he said the Expo's central accommodations bureau will draw on hotel inventory in several large cities that are within a relatively easy "commute" of Hannover.

With the ICE trains, he said, a rail trip to Hannover would take 95 minutes from Berlin, two hours from Frankfurt and one hour from Bremen or Hamburg. There will also be parking space for 1,500 motorcoaches at the event, he said, and for at least 75,000 cars.

Jarrett noted that Hannover for years has hosted giant trade fairs that attract up to 800,000 visitors, so he predicted that the city and its infrastructure would be able to take the Expo 2000 in stride.

Volk predicted that about half a million Americans would visit Expo 2000.

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German National Tourist Office: Web site: www.germany-tourism.de

Tourist offices in the U.S.:
New York: 122 East 42nd St. (52nd floor), 10168-0072; (212) 661-7200; fax (212) 661-7174; e-mail:[email protected]

Chicago: 401 North Michigan Ave. (Suite 2525), 60611-4212; (312) 644-0723, fax (312) 644-0724; e-mail: [email protected]

Los Angeles: 11766 Wilshire Blvd. (Suite 750), 90025; (310) 575-9799; fax (310) 575-1565

(Note: Chicago office is trade only; others are for consumers and trade.)

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