- Amazon Rainforest and River
- Halong Bay
- Iguaçu Falls
- Jeju Island
- Komodo Island
- Puerto Princesa Underground River
- Table Mountain
If you haven’t seen the list before, you might be scratching your head about some of these. Jeju Island? Puerto Princesa Underground River? If you think about it a bit more you’ll probably realize that a bunch of things are missing: The Grand Canyon, the Galapagos Islands, Victoria Falls, Ngorongoro Crater, and Mount Everest just to name a few.
Of the sites listed, I’d say only one, the Amazon Basin, is really a no brainer which should be included. Two I’d consider marginal: Iguacu Falls and Halong Bay. The other four are just ridiculous.
- Puerto Princessa Underground River: I’ve been there. It is interesting, but probably not even the most significant natural site in the Philippines. I’d put the Taal Volcano above it and maybe the Chocolate Hills. Yes, it is the longest underground river in the world, but I’m not sure that is that big of a deal. Filipinos are notorious for voting in online polls. If it is something which can be spun as a matter of national pride, Filipinos will come out in force online, which is exactly what they did here.
- Jeju Island. Maybe the worst selection on the list. South Korea is a big rich country and the government put on a HUGE campaign to get people to vote….and vote they did. I actually considered visiting Jeju Island when I was in South Korea but passed because I thought there were better things to see. This has always been a marginal vacation destination for Koreans and through sheer force of will they got it listed at a UNESCO site (justifiable) and now this. Also, if you don’t know, South Korea is one of the most wired countries on Earth and you could vote on the internet.
- Komodo Island. I’ll grant you that Komodo Dragons are cool, but no one would care about the island if they weren’t there. Again, I don’t think it is even the most significant thing in Indonesia. Mount Bromo and Ujung Kulon National Park probably are more interesting and that doesn’t even include the amazing things in Sumatra, Borneo or Papua.
- Table Mountain. The only reason why Table Mountain is considered special is because there is a city situated below it. It is the city which makes it special. Take away Cape Town and Table Mountain is just another mesa like any other you can find in Africa, Australia or the American West.
The voting process is the least scientific thing you’ll find. People can vote multiple times. Governments at the national and local level spent millions campaigning to get people to vote. At the various travel conferences I traveled to this year I personally saw pitches from Israel, Jordan, Canada, South Korea, Brazil, UAE, Ecuador, India, South Africa, Philippines, Indonesia and probably a few I can’t even remember.
Somehow, the tourist boards of countries around the world have got suckered into playing this game, and the only real winner is Bernard Weber, Chairman of the New7Wonders Foundation and all the telephone companies who are making money off of everyone’s text voting.
You’ll also notice that the winners all have something in common: they are mostly developing countries with large populations. Brazil, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and South Africa all fit this category. South Korea is also populous but a bit richer. Brazil, South Korea, Indonesia and the Philippines have vibrant online communities.
The biggest tragedy to this voting process is that it turns what could be a genuinely construction discussion about the greatest place out planet has to offer, into a crass attempt to exploit nationalism.
If I had to create a personal list, here is what it would look like:
- Mount Everest
- Great Barrier Reef
- Amazon River Basin
- Ngorongoro Crater.
- Galapagos Islands
- Grand Canyon
They just announced yet another contest to pick the world’s greatest cities. If you want, feel free to create your own list, share it with others and talk about it. However, please do not cast a vote in this ridiculous competition.