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The New7Wonders Foundation has spent over a decade attempting to piggyback on the legacy of the oldest “best of” list in travel, the seven wonders of the world.

It has organized three multi-year voting campaigns to select new natural and urban wonders, beginning with a first list that was notable for its controversial inclusion of Rio de Janeiro’s Christ Redeemer statue.

But the organization’s latest campaign, a two-year effort to highlight the world’s greatest cities, came and went with a whimper.

Cities Campaign

The organization recently wrapped up the New7Wonders Cities contest, the third campaign following two which selected the New 7 Wonders of the World and the New 7 Wonders of Nature.

The two-year process began in 2012. More than 1,200 nominees were whittled down to 28 candidates selected by the organization’s panel of experts. The final seven winners were chosen through public voting.

The winning cities include Beirut, Lebanon; Doha, Qatar; Durban, South Africa; Havana, Cuba; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; La Paz, Bolivia; and Vigan, Philippines.

For the first New7Wonders campaign, Jennifer Lopez performed at a party in Lisbon. This time, Bernard Weber, Founder & President of New7Wonders, revealed the names via a YouTube video in Dubai.

The results, which were announced in early December 2014, did not receive the media attention of previous contests.

Although Conde Nast Traveler and Fox News covered the announcement, most of the press following the announcement came from small publications located in the winning cities.

The Organization

According to the New7Wonders’ website, the organization is “funded entirely by licensing and commercial partnerships with companies, TV rights holders, event organizers, and through interactive revenue shares.”

When asked to list such partners, the campaign spokesperson Eamonn Fitzgerald said there are no licensing or partners for its latest campaign.

In previous competitions, it made the lion’s share of its funding through deals with telecommunications partners to charge people to vote for their favorites via text message.

It also asked destinations included in a short list of nominees to sponsor events and parties, which also included paying the organization licensing fees. Prominent destinations, including the Maldives and Indonesia, withdrew backing during the last contest over these fees and publicly criticized the organization.

Simon Hawkins, director of the Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation at the time of the Natural Wonders campaign, told the Telegraph, “There is no transparency. It just seems to be a case of getting what they can. The competition is a complete waste of time and taxpayers’ money. Pulling out was the best thing we ever did.”

The organization prides itself on remaining financially independent from any public or government financing and uses this distinction to set itself apart from other international organizations. What money the company does have after running its website and app are used towards the foundation’s primary purpose, which is promoting a concept it calls Global Memory.

Fitzgerald says the organization prides itself on the fact that it is not “a 20th century office/bureaucracy organization,” but instead “a diverse and motivated team of digitally connected individuals and experts working from diverse locations.”

The Vetting Process

Judges are selected by the New7Wonders organization, and help whittle down a long list of finalists to a smaller list of finalists that are then cut down to winners.

Ana Paula Tavares, executive vice president of the Rainforest Alliance served on the panel of seven experts (including Weber) that narrowed the candidates for the New 7 Wonders of Nature from 77 to 28 nominees. In 2009, the New 7 Wonders Foundation reached out to Tavares through a trusted colleague with an “extremely confidential” email.

She received the email with strict instructions to not share her affiliation with the organization, supposedly, to ensure that none of the attractions could lobby for a spot on the final list. The email was also received with very little time to respond, again in an effort to hide the experts’ identities during the voting process.

Tavares researched the nominees and worked with her colleague Ronald Sanabria, vice president of tourism for the Rainforest Alliance, to come up with her final selection. After sending in her votes, the New 7 Wonders Foundation went silent. Tavares was never notified of the final winners nor invited to an event in Zurich where they were revealed two years later. She says never spoke with or met anyone from the organization.

Looking back on the experience, Tavares questions the impact of the campaign.

“I never really heard anything about the organization afterwards or even heard much about it beforehand,” she says. “I think it’s important to highlight these natural wonders of the world, but honestly I find it really hard to narrow it down to seven. It’s a dangerous thing now that I think of it; there are many wonderful places in the world.”

Global Memory

The New7Wonders Foundation describes its primary goal as the creation of “a platform for humanity to participate in the election of the New7Wonders, which in turn creates Global Memory.”

Global memory is a concept more than any one product, although the website lists several examples of its physical manifestations.

One example is the financing of a 3D virtual model of the Bamiyan Buddhas, sixth century monuments in Afghanistan that were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. This is claimed to be the first step of a larger plan to rebuild the giant structure and place them back in their original location, but this seems unlikely considering the organization’s lack of standing on the international stage and the role that more important organization such as UNESCO are already playing there. UNESCO has publicly distanced itself from New7Wonders.

Another is the where people can upload their photo to become part of a photo composition of the New7Wonders of the World and the New7Wonders of Nature. Fitzgerald describes this platform “a clear example of our Global Memory mission.”

It could also be described as an online photo collage.

The winners of each of the New7Wonders’ campaigns can be found below:

New 7 Wonders of the World New 7 Wonders of Nature New 7 Wonders Cities
Christ Redeemer (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) Amazon (South America) Beirut, Lebanon
Great Wall of China (China) Ha Long Bay (Vietnam) Doha, Qatar
Machu PIcchu (Peru) Iguazu Falls (Argentina./Brazil) Durban, South Africa
Petra (Jordan) Jeju Island (South Korea) Havana, Cuba
Pyramid at Chichen Itza (Mexico) Komodo (Indonesia) Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Roman Colosseum (Italy) PP Underground River (Philippines) La Paz, Bolivia
Taj Mahal (India) Table Mountain (South Africa) Vigan, Philippines
Photo Credit: The Doha skyline. Shaun Dunphy / Flickr