NEW YORK -- With the start of the once-in-a-decade Oberammergau
Passion Play performances only about two months away in Bavaria,
Germany, operators are reporting brisk sales of tours that include
play tickets, and they're now concentrating on filling in their
remaining open dates.
Client interest in the 366-year-old Christian theatrical
tradition, performed at an open-air theater in the picturesque town
of Oberammergau, is heightened this year by the fact that the pope
has declared 2000 to be a Holy Year, or Jubilee Year, in Italy.
A number of tours combine visits to both Germany and Italy as
well as other neighboring countries.
"Our Europe business compared to last year will probably be up
between 80% and 100% on the tour and group side," said
Chicago-based DER Travel Services president Heinz Wesner.
DER is selling a variety of tours that include Oberammergau, and
"we could have used more tickets for certain departures," Wesner
said. "We do still have some open dates, because some groups waited
until the last minute and then released space before they had to
pay in full. So now those [Oberammergau] seats are going into our
escorted tours that we run throughout the year."
At press time, DER still had space on five escorted itineraries
that include a passion play performance, ranging from an eight-day
Germany program priced from $2,054 to a 14-day eastern Europe tour
Wesner noted that the crunch of Oberammergau-inclusive tour
business coming into Bavaria this year could create problems for
agents whose clients are not attending the passion play but need
hotel rooms in Munich, Germany; Innsbruck, Austria, or other nearby
"They may be out of luck, because a lot of [rooms] are sold out
and those still available have a higher price tag than they had in
1999 or than they will have in 2001," he said.
At Friendship International Tours of Woodland Hills, Calif., a
specialist in Christian pilgrimage tours, all the tickets for
Oberammergau -- more than 3,000 -- have been sold, according to
Wesley Bosnic, director of sales.
"We work primarily in the group market, and we started selling
it three or four years ago," he said. "We added more departures
than we had in our brochure, but that's because we also do
customized group itineraries."
Collette Tours in Pawtucket, R.I., initially bought "what we
thought would be enough tickets -- we purchased more than 7,000 --
but they sold out almost immediately, so we acquired some more,"
said spokeswoman Christine Cimino. "Now we're pushing to sell
those. So we're offering travel agents an additional 5% commission
on any of our available Oberammergau Passion Play tours."
Four of the company's original 10 itineraries including
Oberammergau have already sold out, she added; remaining open dates
are scattered from May through September.
Pleasure Break Vacations in Milwaukee has done "very well on
group sales, but now we're emphasizing individual arrangements,"
said Dennis Taylor, vice president-sales and marketing.
"We probably overbought, so we are sitting on almost 2,000
Oberammergau tickets and arrangements that we're now going to open
up for individuals," he said; before, the company was only selling
Oberammergau as part of its escorted tours of a week or more.
The passion play tickets that Pleasure Break has opened up for
FIT sales come with one or two nights' hotel accommodations in or
near Oberammergau, he said, along with meals.
As for group sales, those are "filling up very nicely," Taylor
said. "The busiest ones now are the last two weeks of May and the
first part of June, and then during Octoberfest. We bought another
1,000 tickets for the Octoberfest period" to meet demand, he
There is a considerable secondary market for passion play
tickets, as tour operators worldwide who hold official allocations
of seats from the Oberammergau organizing committee buy, sell or
trade tickets to other wholesalers according to their market
Pleasure Break got about half of its tickets from the official
Oberammergau committee, Taylor said, and acquired the rest on the
open market. "There are more [operators] than ever [selling
Oberammergau tickets this year], because they spread the tickets
out," he said.
Legitimate operators in the passion play business have learned
to be careful about the secondary market.
"We had a couple of departure dates where we went to other
companies to exchange tickets," said DER's Wesner. "But first, we
went to Oberammergau's official ticket committee and said, 'Do
these guys really have tickets?'
"After that was confirmed, we asked the company to send us an
official ticket application, which has to be available -and if they
didn't have it, we wouldn't buy."