Maldives withdraws from New7Wonders campaign after surprise US$500,000 bill

Tourism authorities in the Maldives have withdrawn the country from the New7Wonders campaign, after claiming the private company behind the competition began demanding increasingly high fees in order for the Maldives to compete meaningfully for the remainder of the competition.

The decision was made during Tuesday’s cabinet session after weeks of deliberation between the Ministry of Tourism Arts and Culture, the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) and industry stakeholders.

State Minister for Tourism Thoyyib Mohamed announced at a press conference on Wednesday morning that the Maldives was withdrawing from the competition “because of the unexpected demands for large sums of money from the New7Wonders organisers. We no longer feel that continued participation is in the economic interests of the Maldives.”

The Maldives has only invested US$12,000 over the lifespan of the campaign, mostly significantly on banners and voting terminals at Male’ International Airport, Thoyyib said.

Minivan News understands that the company behind New7Wonders, the ‘New Open World Corporation’ (NOWC), initially levied a US$199 participation fee upon signing of the initial contract in early 2009.

However, once the Maldives was announced as a finalist, NOWC began soliciting additional fees and expenses not clearly articulated in the original contract, which tourism authorities estimate will cost the Maldives upwards of half a million dollars.

Requests have so fair included ‘sponsorship fees’ (‘platinum’ at US$350,000, or two ‘gold’ at US$210,000 each), and funding of a ‘World Tour’ event whereby the Maldives would pay for a delegation of people to visit the country, provide hot air balloon rides, press trips, flights, accommodation and communications.  According to tourism authorities,  these services would amount to a total cost to the country’s economy of over US$500,000.

Minivan News understands that NOWC also attempted to charge telecom provider Dhiraagu US$1 million for the right to participate in the New7Wonders campaign – approximately US$3 for every citizen in the Maldives – a fee that was dropped to half a million when the telco complained about the price.

When tourism authorities expressed concern about the skyrocketing cost of participating in the competition, billed as a global democratic selection of the new seven wonders, NOWC expressed sympathy for the Maldives’ economic situation and instructed it to solicit money from the resort industry.

“We require sponsorship if you are going to benefit from a full World Tour visit,” a company representative said in correspondence obtained by Minivan News. “We believe it is perfectly within the financial means of the leading resorts, when combined, to afford this sponsor fee (especially considering the extraordinary image, economic and marketing benefit it brings to the Maldives and therefore to their businesses).”

The correspondence reveals that should the Maldives be unable to provide the money demanded by NOWC, it would be offered an alternative “protocol visit to your capital city, lasting one day. This visit includes the presentation of a certificate to the appropriate authority and a short press conference. The N7W team arrives in the morning and leaves the same day.”

New7Wonders emphasised however that “during our first campaign (for the man-made wonders) all the seven winners had very strong and exciting World Tour visits.”

In the terms and conditions on the organisation’s website concerning participating candidates, NOWC “ultimately decides whether a nominee, candidate or wonder is able to participate and or retain its status in the New7Wonders campaigns.”

Vague terms such as ‘non-compliance’ “may result in the temporary suspension of the participating nominee, candidate or wonder from that country. Persistent or un-remedied non-compliance may result in the permanent elimination of a nominee, candidate or wonder.”

“Essentially we’re paying a license fee for the right to throw a party, at our own cost, for an unproven return,” a senior tourism official told Minivan News, suggesting that claims a billion people were voting in the competition did not add up, as the Maldives had fluctuated wildly between 19th and 2nd and the tally was not transparent.

Furthermore, “any media that drops its price 50 percent at the first complaint is totally unprofessional, and in a mature media market this is considered highly unusual and poor practice. It means they haven’t justified the original cost,” the source said.

Not alone

The Maldives is not the only country to have been stung by surprise demands for sponsorship cash, not clearly outlined in the contract. NOWC reportedly demanded US$10 million in licensing fees from tourism authorities in Indonesia, which had fielded the Komodo national park as a wonder, and required that it foot an estimated US$35 million bill to host the World Tour event.

In February this year, the Jakarta Post reported the country’s Tourism Minister Jero Wacik as stating that the Ministry had received a letter on December 29, 2010 claiming that NOWC would “suspend” Komodo from the list of finalists if it refused to pay the US$10 million license fee.

“It’s not fair and irrational,” Wacik said. “I refuse to be extorted by anyone, including this NGO. I thought these are about votes, if the world votes for it, then it will win, what does that have to do with hosting the event?”

N7W founder Bernard Weber, "filmmaker, aviator, adventurer".

In response, New7Wonders founder Bernard Weber, a Swiss-born Canadian who describes himself as a “filmmaker, aviator and adventurer”, accused the Indonesian Ministry of Culture and Tourism of “reacting with malicious misinformation, invented financial commitments and prejudicial action to cover up for an apparent lack of moral responsibility and duty. In my view, with this behaviour, the Ministry has also reduced the chances for Indonesia to host other major global events that create goodwill in the world, such as the Olympics or the World Cup.”

He then announced that New7Wonders was revoking Indonesia’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism from its status as ‘Official Supporting Committee’ for Komodo, claiming that “last week strengthened the case for us to withdraw from Indonesia completely. If we depended on the Ministry, then today we would be forced to announce a complete pull-out.”

Although the New7Wonders site contains a link ‘United Nations Partnership’, the UN’s World Heritage body UNESCO in 2007 disavowed participation in the first New7Wonders campaign, claiming it was “a private initiative by Bernard Weber” with whom the organisation had decided “not to collaborate”.

“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 of the World 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,” UNESCO stated.

After the world’s sole remaining ancient wonder of the world, the Pyramids of Giza, failed to garner enough votes in Weber’s first New7Wonders campaign, Egyptian Culture Minister Farouq Hosni criticised the project as “absurd” and described its creator as “a man concerned primarily with self-promotion”. The pyramids were subsequently made an ‘honorary’ wonder of the world.

The fate of the money apparently now being paid to NOWC by tourism authorities all over the world is unclear, although New7Wonders claims on its site that funds from the first campaign “have been entirely used to fund the running and campaign costs. The mission is thus to create a surplus during the current New7Wonders of Nature campaign which ends in 2011.”

Funds beyond that, the site states, are used “to set up and run the global New7Wonders voting platform, to run the first campaign that chose the Official New 7 Wonders of the World, to run the current campaign electing the Official New7Wonders of Nature, to run the New7Wonders organisation, [and] to create a surplus for distribution.”

Fifty percent of its surplus net revenues, the site states, are pledged “ to the main New7Wonders Foundation cause: the promotion of Global Memory, specifically the documentation and 3D virtual recording of all New7Wonders.”

Minivan News confirmed that a ‘New7Wonders Foundation’ is registered in the Swiss canton of Zurich as a charitable foundation, however the New7Wonders own website describes it as “a major, global-scale proof of a business concept based on mass virtual online dynamics creating concrete economic positive outcomes in the real world”, and the contract signed with the Maldives gives NOWC’s address as a law firm in the Republic of Panama.

Responding to enquiries from Minivan News, New7Wonders Spokesperson Eamonn Fitzgerald said the Maldives remained in the competition despite the government’s decision.

“We accept the resignation of the Ministry [of Tourism] as Official Supporting Committee (OSC), and we plan in due course to replace them therefore with a new OSC,” he said.

“As we enter the final months of the campaign we clearly see the difference between those who are ready for the unique opportunity of participating in the New7Wonders of Nature — such as the people and workers of the Maldives, who remain strong and active supporters — and those who are not able to step up to the challenge for whatever reason. New7Wonders always listens to the people, the voters, first, and therefore I can confirm to all the fans of the Maldives from all over the world, who are actively campaigning and voting, that they will be able to continue doing so.”

Fitzgerald further denied New7Wonders had requested sponsorship from the Maldivian government.

“We have offered the opportunity for Maldivian companies to come on board as sponsors, in the same way as other global events and campaigns are sponsored,” he claimed.

Asked whether the organisation was a charitable foundation or a commercial enterprise, Fitzgerald claimed it was both.

“At the heart of New7Wonders is the officially Swiss-registered not-for-profit Foundation, the New7Wonders Foundation. As with other Foundations, who cannot themselves by statute operate commercially, New7Wonders has formally transferred the commercial operation to its licensing company, New Open World Corporation, which then runs the commercial aspects.”

Addendum: This story has been updated to include a response from NOWC, received subsequent to publication.


34 thoughts on “Maldives withdraws from New7Wonders campaign after surprise US$500,000 bill”

  1. I the initial idea to enhance, the image of the country is right thing to do. It was also the right thing to pull out.. There are so many private bogus ideas such as above, we just need to be BEWARE

  2. What a total scam this competition is, it claims to have 1 billion votes but there are literally hundreds of people who work in the industry who have never heard of this competition. Better off out of it! Can not name one of the winners of the last competition! A SCAM !

  3. its a gud thing that MMPRC pulled out of it without paying additional charges

  4. I couldn't stop thinking how destination promotion office such as MTPB or MMPRC failed to find out con behavior or Mr. Webber.
    Also, NOWC lured Maldives to stay in the competition by bringing from 25th spot to 3rd position within a week around two months back and suddenly asked for half a million dollar.

    You morons and asses, don't blame to Mr. Webber, you should have read it before tick it for US$199.00

  5. great and enlightening article! like most other decisions, government didn't bother to give much details and many like myself were astonished to hear the news. but now I support the decision! but so much effort has been wasted! so sad! :p

  6. I've always maintained the opinion that this was one of the greatest scams in recent history. Bernie Madoff managed to fool individual investors in the US, Weber has managed to fool whole governments, all across the world.

    Kudos to the Tourism Ministry for finally waking up. Maldives doesn't need to participate in nonsense competitions like this, tourist arrivals are guaranteed as long as there are no major global incidents. Neither New7Wonders nor MTPB or the tourism ministry have anything to do with it (although they like to think so). It's a no brainer really.

  7. As much as i hate to break it you people, including the minivan news. Some people do think the process is credible, for instance Israeli government is promoting the dead sea at 8.5 million NIS (about 1 million USD)

  8. @ Shawn

    People gave Bernie Madoff $65 billion (!), does that make him credible too?

  9. Sounds just like the emails I receive as spam mail. I am surprised the Maldives fell for it.

  10. @Shawn

    Your line of reasoning sounds familiar, hmmm.... 'Emperor's new clothes'?

  11. What about the US12,000 the Maldives government wasted on in campaign for this? The government is always haa hooing of deficit and money saving measures, cutting down our salaries and making our lives horrible. And here we found out how you are saving the money to improve the deficits. You get into scams and waste the money, then realise later. I am not going to congratulate you all for pulling out of this competition, as I believe your failure to investigate this before joining the competition was itself a proof that you guys are all stupid failures.

  12. Why all the excuses now? Just because we have to pay some money? Know what? Everything has its price. You name it, it has a price. Similarly, the new wonders has its price and in return we gain fame and popularity. In marketing perspective, this event would have created a hype for Maldives and noise which we could maintain for long term publicity. For example, if we choose to advertise on an international channel for six months, it will cost us approx.US$650,000. But if we pay New 7 Wonders 300k and then they show Maldives on many international channels live with celebrity presence, won't it be a good advertisement? Or what would you call it? A scam? As my friend says today there is nothing called a free lunch and all these awards are given to people who lobby and pay the price to the promoters aid.

  13. I honestly do not believe that USD12000 was the total amount spent on this ridiculous scam.

    What about administrative costs including wages for those employed in the equally ludicrous State PR Firm created just for this project? What about the possibility for backroom deals involving cash payments? What about the time and money allocated by the Maldives Airports Company Ltd. to establish voting stations at MIA???

    Measures for cost-cutting and austerity are too painful to make at this juncture. The government has spelled out its plans - attack the private sector and force them to pay for the bloated State budget. The IMF is made to look like the sponsor for this hapless scheme.

    The Maldivian people are powerless as yet to stop this dictatorship from damning our country to hell. However, once momentum is gained, this administration will fall and once the smoke clears, lets see how much corruption and proof of misappropration can be brought against the current administration.

  14. better late than never. Congratulations for pulling out of the competition. Sure it's a scam.

  15. @Ali

    hey you know what...there is a better, a more cheaper way to gain fame. lets withdraw from the competition in the most public way. give statements to news media that we are withdrawing and give them the reasons. create a controversy...create a scandal...pull weber into this. let him give out his statements. lets see what happens?:p

  16. Wonderful article, JJ.

    There was always something that made me uneasy about the media hype over an internet campaign with no academic/real world merit.

    Today, I feel good about all the "votes" I never cast, and all the 'ZOMG! VOTE Maldives FOR new7wonders!' nags on social networks.

    What a relief this is over.

  17. well its a scam but i am surprised that at the time of signing this people like Maleeh (matato)were in charge of MTPB. i thought they are smart enough to realise this. maybe they also didnt know at that time. sometimes things like this happens. thank god not much has been paid

  18. @tsk tsk
    Get your facts right.MMPRC is the former MTP, its not a new entity that was created just for this seven wonders thing. And thank god for that.
    Its always better to pull out, once you realize its a scam. There must be something wrong with this whole 7 wonders thing that even UNESCO would not touch it.
    Its also the private sector that is benefitting from it, cause one of the 7 wonders brilliant idea was to ask resorts for the money.

  19. You dragged us into a bloody scam and now you are trying to use economic reasons as justification for pulling out...What a useless government..Thoyyib, State Minister for Tourism should be fired,though a relative of the President.

  20. Tsk tsk,
    So far the Government has put a lid on the disasterous Villu Reef event, the number of visits actually went up afterwards and saved over half a million dollars from N7W. Not bad savings. No money has been spent apart from a few posters and computers at the airport used for Facebook.

    Why don't you take over the competition with the enormous bills and threats of disqualification. Unesco and Wikipedia and Indonseia might say do not!!

  21. It seems MATI (Maldives Association for Tourism..) wants to get involved and pay this extortionists. Why can’t MATI donate this money to needy and poor of the country? There are many who earn less than $1 per day. More to the point, why are we collecting pennies (GST). Why no one talks about proper taxation of companies on their profits?

  22. Thanks Aicha...Didn't keep up with developments around then.

    Still my concern remains regarding additional costs in terms of time and money racked up in support of this dead-end project.

    However, I respect your political affiliations and bias and would like to state clearly that I am biased against this administration. Hence the mistake I made.


    MMPRC misleads the government and general public.

    Simon Hawkins is behind all this, this is the guy that tried to kill Maldives tourism with the boycott in Friends of Maldives.

    We need Maldivians who are patriots to run this country and not foreigners!!

  24. At the initial stage of this campaign i noticed those costs, but if i am not wrong it was optional, but now i am proven wrong.

  25. @Rinzy for your information the contract was signed by Maleeh Jameel, the brother of Dr jameel of qaumee party

  26. The problem with Maldivians is that they think if they have internet, they know everything.
    It's actually a good idea to think out of the box, but this one was always a bit way over the top. The Bernard just wants to make some money.

  27. the maldives is now the only nation on the map, whether they beliv it or not, whether they know it or not. they know

    the kingdom of heaven was born here

  28. good decision but too late...even at the initial stage they knew the cots involved.
    Not buying any awards are we?....what about the World Travel Award last November? I am sure they will buy the award again this year. IT is done in a similar manner, but more effectively. you can even name the award you want like 'most romantic destination'

  29. Waht a shame! I could not believe that people are so easy to fall on this kind of so obvious SCAM. In Korea, voting by phone or internet was encouraged by the government official! How the hell one can allow to vote multiple times on the same issue from the participating country??? Find out more about Bernard Weber, who is the masterminder of this vicious scam of the century!!!

  30. Well, congratulations to Tourism authorities in the Maldives for not being a jack-ass for too long!


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