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Table Mountain vote a cash cow

Published Nov 10, 2011


The Swiss-based company behind the New 7 Wonders of Nature competition stands to make millions of dollars from the global voting campaign in which Table Mountain is one of the 28 finalists.

About one billion votes are expected to be cast in the campaign but the organisers say all the proceeds from the votes go into operating costs and the foundation.

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On Friday the seven winners of the competition will be announced.

In the build-up, there has been a frenzied call for South Africans to vote, made by the city council, the province and even the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

The Cape Times has established that:

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* The campaign is primarily based on popular voting by SMS – at R2 a vote, and MXit – at 20 Moolas – and with no restriction on the number of votes cast by a voter. Half the revenue goes to the foundation. In the last campaign more than 100 million internet votes were cast for the New Man Made Wonder of the World.

* The foundation charges various fees to use its branding, which is optional. In one example the Indonesian media reported that $1 million was charged to use the New 7 Wonders branding on a plane for a Jakarta campaign.

* The campaign has no standing with any international official body, or any scientific body such as the UN body Unesco which runs the World Heritage Site programme.

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Responding to queries about the commercial nature of the campaign from the Cape Times, the City of Cape Town and local campaign organisers gave their full backing to the competition, saying it would have huge benefits for Cape Town.

However, former Cape Town mayor, Gordon Oliver, has raised a red flag about the potential for abuse in the voting campaign.

Oliver referred to media reports from Indonesia in August in which the country threatened to withdraw the Komodo Island National Park from the competition over a row about a $10m licence fee as well as a $35m fee for hosting the award ceremony for the competition.

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Participating countries have to pay $200 finalist registration fees but other reports have claimed that other options available included $350 000 for platinum-level sponsorship and $1m license fee to use the New 7 Wonders logo.

Oliver pointed out that many of the finalists’ sites were already popular tourist attractions that would not benefit much more from the New 7 Wonders of Nature title.

“What authority does this organisation have to determine a natural wonder as a finalist? It’s important that our authorities get the credentials of such organisations who set themselves up as the authority to decide the prominence of natural features. It seems to me that this competition is self-serving and possibly dishonest,” Oliver said.

Unesco has also reiterated this week that it is distancing itself from the campaign. Unesco spokesperson Susan Williams said the organisation had been invited numerous times to be part of the campaign but had decided not to collaborate with the founder, Bernard Weber.

“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. The list of the ‘7 New Wonders’ will be the result of a private undertaking, reflecting only the opinions of those with access to the internet and not the entire world.

“This initiative cannot, in any significant and sustainable manner, contribute to the preservation of sites elected by this public,” Williams said.

City spokesman Pieter Cronje said the city understood that the competition was based on popular votes and was happy to be associated with the brand. The city has spent nearly R1.7 million on advertising in some 120 newspapers countrywide, online, cellphone and on radio. Free promotional slots on television, radio and in cinemas were negotiated.

Cronje said: “The value of media exposure stands at R11 245 037 (in return for the paid advertisements). The total value of all the exposure is in excess of R26m. This has been invaluable international exposure for Table Mountain and Cape Town through the three-year voting campaign which saw Table Mountain coming through the rounds of 440 to 77 finalists and now 28 finalists.”

Cronje and Lehmann quoted a study done by auditors Grant Thornton which estimated that if Table Mountain was named as one of the 7 Wonders this could mean a R1.4 billion injection into the South African tourism sector and create 11 000 jobs.

Sabine Lehmann, chairperson of the Official Table Mountain organising committee, said: “I am satisfied that there have been great benefits for Table Mountain and Cape Town in participating in this campaign.”

The New 7 Wonders Foundation has said it does not make any profit from the campaign and has denied that it charges exorbitant fees to use its optional branding.

“We hope that we can generate a surplus after this campaign but all the money from votes goes into running the campaign and maintaining a voting platform for a global competition.

“We do not disclose how many votes have been cast. In our last campaign there were 100 million votes cast and the target for this campaign is one billion votes,” foundation spokesman Eamonn Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said there were varying fees for using the foundation’s branding, but he would not disclose figures.

Fitzgerald said: “The figures vary by country. As a rule we do not comment on business and commercial aspects, which is standard practice in the business world.

“As we already stated to the Maldivian media, most of the numbers floated around in these reports are false (the plane logo being the most hilarious one).”

Fitzgerald was referring to a row over the branding costs for logos on planes in both the Maldives and Jakarta.

“None of the commercial aspects are conditional for the participation of the finalists. These are just options when and if commercial and private companies want to get involved (as they would gain |commercially from such an involvement).”

Fitzgerald said funding for the organisation came from two sources; telephone voting and licence fees from their historical Official Declaration event in Lisbon in 2007.

He said this campaign was also bringing in funding from registration fees paid by companies which wanted to become Official Supporter sponsors.

“The foundation does not make any money from any of the campaigns.

“We do not comment on our business or revenue aspects. When the licensing company, NewOpenWorld Corporation, generates a surplus at the end of the three campaigns (The New Seven Wonders of the World, the New7Wonders of Nature, New7Wonders Cities), 50 percent will be awarded to the foundation.

“That is a pledge we have already made,” Fitzgerald added. - Cape Times

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