Cape Town’s Table Mountain has now been declared one of the new seven wonders of the world. This accolade is likely to generate as much as $10bn in economic and marketing value for the country.
When, in 1580, Sir Francis Drake rounded what is today Cape Point and beheld the cloud-bedecked plateau-topped mountain that he called “the fairest cape in all the world” he could never have imagined that four and a half centuries hence people from the world over would spend a king’s ransom to marvel at the spectacle and stand at its tabletop summit. He might sooner have believed that this fairest Cape would be celebrated as a wonder of the world and that a splendid city would rise amongst the grandeur.
There was a double whammy for the city – after winning the title of World Design Capital in November, a month later, Table Mountain was voted one of the new seven wonders of the world. The New Wonders of Nature campaign began three years ago with 440 global nominations whittled down to 77 New Seven Wonders and then 28 before the final selection. Table Mountain was the only finalist in South Africa and, with Kilimanjaro, one of only two finalists on the African continent. International consultant Grant Thornton reckons that the title could greatly boost the South African economy and generate greater job opportunities .
“The title means that South Africa could benefit by an estimated $200m a year, equivalent to over $1bn for the first five years,” says the consultancy in a report, “and that’s counting direct economic impact only, with tourism to Cape Town increasing by about 20%, mostly from international tourists.” According to the organisers, around 1bn votes were cast over two years in the competition’s “global democracy”.
The increase in tourists that would flow from being one of the seven would, according to Grant Thornton, “generate an additional R116m ($13m) a month with such tourist expenditure supporting around 11,000 employment opportunities in South Africa”.
The consultancy’s projections were based on a previous campaign, to choose the new seven (man-made) wonders of the world, culminating in 2007 with over 100m votes cast. It found that ‘measurable’ results were seen at sites which made the top seven short-listed in that campaign, noting that visitors to Petra in Jordan increased by 61%, and visitors to Christ the Redeemer in Brazil increased by 30%.
“The man-made New 7 Wonders of the World have become part of school curriculums all over the world, and if the same happens to the New 7 Wonders of Nature, children from every corner of the globe will be learning about Table Mountain and South Africa as a destination,” the report found.
Jean-Paul de la Fuente, director of New 7 Wonders, says that Grant Thornton’s findings confirm the conclusions of an academic study released last year by London-based publisher Pearson (publisher of the Financial Times newspaper) in which the worldwide economic contribution made by the campaign to elect the man-made New 7 Wonders was valued at more than $5bn.
De la Fuente also pointed out that the Grant Thornton report referred to purely economic value only. “If you add the marketing, advertising, image and branding value, you would easily double the numbers, which means that the New 7 Wonders of Nature campaign is likely to generate well over $10bn in economic and marketing value globally.”
“Table Mountain’s inauguration as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature is a worthy recognition of this symbol that we all own and cherish,” says Cape Town’s Executive Mayor, Alderman Patricia de Lille. “While it defines our city, it is much greater than that. It is a piece of our natural heritage that belongs to all South Africans and, we believe, the world. Being listed as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature will bring tremendous direct economic and socio-economic benefits to both Cape Town and South Africa. This is an incredible moment. Our mountain is now officially one of the marvels of the environment.”
Not everyone’s as thrilled at the mountain’s accolade.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) finds the hype somewhat overboard and has distanced itself from the campaign. Unesco spokesperson Susan Williams says her organisation has turned down numerous invitations to be part of the campaign but had decided not to collaborate with New 7 Wonders 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,” she told The (South African) Times newspaper, adding that the list of the seven 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,” says Williams.
Bernard Weber, Founder-President of the New 7 Wonders Foundation, was unfazed. He maintains that the inauguration marks the culmination of an inspiring campaign of which all South Africans could be proud. “Table Mountain is not only a spectacular backdrop for Cape Town, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but also offers visitors the unique experience of walking on top of the mountain and enjoying the most awe-inspiring panoramic views.”
Sabine Lehmann, CEO of the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company and Chairperson of the Table Mountain Official Supporters Committee, reports that the economic impact of the accolade was already being felt. “We have had a record number of visitors this November – the best in 10 years,” she says.
The African icon hosted its inauguration after those of the Puerto Princesa Underground River, the Amazon, Jeju Island, Halong Bay and Iguazu Falls. Komodo Island does so in 2013.