New 7 Wonders spawn controversy, marketing opportunities

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With every new designation -- Unesco World Heritage sites, "1,000 Places to See Before You Die" and now the New Seven Wonders of the World -- comes a fresh marketing opportunity.

So it was no surprise that when the New Seven Wonders were announced on July 7, destinations that made the cut applauded the effort, those that didn't dismissed it and the travel industry immediately plotted ways to capitalize on it.

"We fully intend to market this opportunity to its full potential," said Cyndi Zesk, vice president of marketing at Pawtucket, R.I.-based Collette Vacations. "People of course want to visit one of the Seven Wonders of the World, if not all of them. This will appeal to consumers and agents, and we will soon have the packages and promotions to really excite those customers."

For 2008, Collette already offers packages that include six of the seven sites. "Petra, Jordan, the only place listed that we don't currently visit, [will] be added, particularly now that it's a New Wonder," said Daniel Sullivan Jr., president and CEO of Collette.

Before the New Seven Wonders had even been announced, Canadian agency Travel Cuts had already assembled a Seven Wonders in 70 Days package for $7,000 by guesstimating which sites would be selected.

Swiss entrepreneur Bernard Weber initiated the New Seven Wonders project in 1999, more than 2,100 years after the original list was compiled by ancient Greek thinkers.

The original Seven Wonders of the World were the Temple of Artemis in present-day Turkey; the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, near Al Hillah in Iraq; the Colossus of Rhodes; the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus in Bodrum, Turkey; the Lighthouse at Alexandria, Egypt; the Statue of Zeus at Olympia; and the Pyramids in Giza.

Weber's notion was to decide the new wonders in a democratic forum. According to his New7Wonders Foundation, more than 100 million voters from more than 200 countries elected the seven sites via online and phone-in voting that started in January 2006.

Voters chose from a list of 20 sites, which had been determined by a New7Wonders panel headed by former director-general of Unesco, Federico Zaragoza. Those 20 had been whittled down from an original 77 sites, also established by public voting that ran from 2000 through Dec. 24, 2005.

And while the New Seven Wonders were announced amid much media hype before a crowd of about 50,000 in Lisbon -- on 7/7/07, of course -- not everyone was sold on Weber's methodology.

"There is no comparison between Mr. Weber's mediatised campaign and the scientific and educational work resulting from the inscription of sites on Unesco's World Heritage List," Unesco declared in an official statement. "This initiative cannot, in any significant and sustainable manner, contribute to the preservation of sites elected by this public."

Egypt also contested the validity of the project, claiming that the Pyramids of Giza were already an ancient wonder. The country had refused to entertain Weber's project, and, in an awkward compromise, New7Wonders' granted the Pyramids honorary New Seven Wonders status.

Regardless, a list is still a list.

"As soon as there's a checklist out there, there's going to be people doing it," said Ian Swain, president of Ardmore, Pa.-based Swain Tours, which plans on plugging the two sites it already offers, the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal in India, with the New Wonders tag.

"There's the status of that, checking your list off," said Swain. "And there's going to be people out there saying, 'Well, I've done the New Seven Wonders of the World.' And that will stimulate travel."

To contact reporter Michelle Baran, send e-mail to [email protected].

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