As many of you now know, Halong Bay was recently recognised as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature after a four-year marketing campaign by an organisation based in Switzerland. The news was announced on 11/11/11. Some day, when people look back on the pivotal moments in Halong Bay’s profile as a destination, I believe we’ll look at this recognition as a threshold of sorts.
The amount of media attention extended to Halong Bay as a result of this recognition has been modest, with articles popping online at CNN and at some other well regarded media sites, but visions of a ginormous media blitz never came to pass. But really, news about awards and recognitions doesn’t carry much water in the media, especially if the awards are the results of marketing efforts, as this one was.
Skepticism about the validity of the awards was and has become an inevitable byproduct of the announcement. One commenter to a National Geographic web story that asks, ‘Are These the Seven Wonders of Nature,’ takes issue with NatGeo for buying into the “scam.”
Make no mistake, the New 7 Wonders campaign was a popularity contest. Whoever won the most votes was bound to win, and destinations around the globe geared up publicity machines to ensure a steady flow of votes. We at the Emeraude issued a press release about this campaign in 2007 (we issued one last week, too), and politicians in Vietnam signed on as boosters with ceremonial photo-opps of votes cast. A photo in the Vietnamese press pictured a baby with a cell phone casting a vote.
This was supposed to be fun. The contest was supposed to stimulate attention and debate, and it has. The organisers of this contest have not released the numbers of votes won by each of these destinations, but I’m betting that Halong Bay was near the top. As my boss noted in our press release, Halong Bay was an “unimpeachable choice.”
That’s why I think this recognition is a threshold of sorts for Halong Bay. Yes, Halong Bay was recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, an organisation that carries a good deal of prestige around the world. But there are 936 World Heritage Sites around the world. The New 7 Wonders lists only seven.
This is exclusive company. What the wider world now knows, whether you quibble over the inclusions or exclusions on this list, is that Halong Bay is one of the natural wonders of the world. Until just about 20 years ago, it was inaccessible to the wider world, given Vietnam’s decades-long preoccupation with conflict and privation, as opposed to tourism.
But those days are over now. And we’re sailing into an era that should reinforce Halong Bay’s standing as one of the most, if not the most, remarkable things you’ll ever see.