Selling Europe: A New Option for Passion Play Fans
by Ruth A.Hill /

For travel agents and tour operators, Germany’s centuries-old Oberammergau Passion Play has long been a top-seller. Unfortunately for enthusiasts, the play only takes place every decade – and the next one isn’t for another five years.

Now, producers of the 200-year-old Passion Play of Sordevolo, Italy, are hoping to attract the attention of American passion play fans in time for its next series, which runs June through September 2015.

U.S. tour firms are getting onboard, giving North American travel agents a new (and commissionable) experience to offer clients who are passion play lovers, or potentially so.

Not for church groups only
Although a passion play is a religious drama dating to medieval times that depicts the final days  of Christ’s life, its appeal extends beyond faith-based travelers.

“This is a fantastic choice for church groups and others who enjoy theater and culture,” said Jim Zitani, vice president of sales for Central Holidays, the exclusive ticket distributor in North and South America for Italy’s passion play.

The Passion Play of Sordevolo, Italy, is performed every five years in the northern piedmont region near Turin and Milan.

Central Holidays is offering group packages that combine the play with visits to the larger cities of Venice, Florence and Rome.

Tickets and tour packages are currently available for groups only. Individual tickets will be available as of Jan. 1, 2015. All products are commissionable to agents.

More affordable than Oberammergau
Another supplier promoting Italy’s passion play is Regina Tours, which is also offering commissionable group play packages combined with tours of Italy.

"It will be another five years before the Oberammergau play comes around, and the experience is much the same,” said Regina Tours president Nick Mancino.

“Prices are between 15% and 20% less than the German package, and you have the stunning piedmont region of Italy to enjoy, with its great French influences in wine and food, plus several world heritage sites, historic chapels and sanctuaries."

Oberammergau in 2020
The more well-known Oberammergau Passion Play is one of the world's longest-running theatrical events.

It's been performed by townspeople nearly every decade since 1634. Villagers initially staged the event as an expression of their gratitude for being spared death by plague during the Middle Ages.

The play is set in Bavaria’s Ammergau Alps, about two hours from Munich. Most summertime performances in the 4,800-seat amphitheater are sellouts.

Many travel agents and tour operators who sell cultural and faith-based travel are already compiling waiting lists for the next Oberammergau series in 2020. Oberammergau tickets will be available beginning in 2017.

Similarities & differences
The Passion Play of Sordevolo, Italy, dates to the early 1800s.

Like its German counterpart, it has no professional actors or producers. Townspeople carry the roles, and roles are often passed down through family generations.

Dialog in both plays is in local languages, and both follow the biblical narrative.

While the German play lasts approximately five hours, with a meal break (many tour operators include a meal during the play), the Italian play lasts only two and a half hours.

It will be another five years before the Oberammergau play comes around, and the experience is much the same.

Nick Mancino, Regina Tours