Oberammergau responds to industry concerns


Tour operators have won a major concession over reservations for next year’s season of the Oberammergau Passion Play. They have been given more time to pay the balance on block reservations allocated on payment of a deposit. Sales of tickets and accommodation packages have been so slow, especially in North America, that there were fears that thousands of allocations would have to be returned unsold.

The 2010 Passion Play opens on May 15, and the season runs until the first week of October. The problem for tour operators was that the organizing committee in Oberammergau had demanded full payment by the end of September this year, but few people are prepared to commit to a European tour so far ahead of time in the current economic climate.

The concerns of tour operators were taken up by ETOA, which has welcomed moves to relax the payment protocol.

Tour operators were originally allocated a block of reservations on payment of a 20 percent deposit in 2008, and full balances were due for payment by September 30 of this year. The organizing committee in Oberammergau has accepted that an interim further deposit of 30 percent should be paid by September, and the final balance of 50 percent should be paid by January 31, 2010.

Cancellation terms have been amended to 20 percent, plus initial booking fee if the tickets are handed back earlier than 91 days before the commencement of the package.

Crucially, tour operators will also be credited with €2 (plus 19 percent VAT) for every passenger whose arrangements include accommodation in villages outside Oberammergau, Unterammergau, and Ettal.

These changes will go some way to addressing the concerns of tour operators who have been worried by slow advance bookings for Oberammergau tours.

“These concessions are most welcome. The Passion Play is a great historic tradition and a major stimulus to inbound European tourism,” said Tom Jenkins, executive director, ETOA. “However, with market conditions proving exceptionally difficult this year, these concessions were desperately needed to prevent tour operators from dumping their ticket allocations in order to protect themselves against potentially extraordinary losses.”

The German National Tourist Office in London also welcomed the changes to the payment arrangements and in a statement acknowledged that take-up by consumers of Oberammergau packages was slow. “We are well aware of the specific situation for tour operators offering Passion Play arrangements under the current economic climate.

“A joint effort by all concerned is needed, and the GNTO is actively promoting packages to support the tour operators faced with reduced consumer confidence in these uncertain times. We certainly welcome the decision of the organizers in Oberammergau to give some breathing space to the tour operators having to respond to the slow uptake.”

Prices have more than doubled since the last season in 2000. This has coincided with a downturn in the travel market in North America. In past years, Oberammergau has attracted 500,000 visitors over the season of the Passion Play and the tradition has become a major cultural festival in the Bavarian Alps once every ten years.

The Oberammergau Passion Play usually sells out many months ahead. Group blocks of packages booked by American churches are notably scarce this year.

“It is vital that the Oberammergau Passion Play is a success,” said Tom Jenkins. “For years it has been one of the most important catalysts for European inbound tourism, and so it is almost unthinkable that there can be a failure. We welcome the moves by the organizing committee to create a more flexible sales framework that meet some of the needs of these changed times. It is also excellent news that they are embarking on a press and PR campaign to boost demand, just when it is needed.”