A wonderful challenge

Even as countries around the world gear up to take advantage of the New Seven Wonders, more than anything, the new list spotlights the need to preserve historical sites, writes CLARK KELLY
India: The Taj Mahal

Now that the New Seven Wonders of the world have been decided by a reported 100 million people, tourism bodies are scrambling to capitalise on the nominations.

A visit to Machu Picchu, for one, will now cost more, reports The director of the National Cultural Institute, Cecilia Bلkula, stated that fees to see Machu Picchu will be more expensive, now that it is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. She explained that the rules of the game have changed now that Machu Picchu is a legacy we have to leave for future generations.
Authorities in Uttar Pradesh, the Indian state under whose jurisdiction the Taj Mahal falls, are pulling out all the stops. 
The state government has approved several plans for Agra's makeover, India’s Economic Times reported. Among the new projects are The Taj Express Way, which the government is keen to have it completed much in advance of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the 300-acre Taj National Park project, being created across the river Yamuna in collaboration with the US National Park Service, and an open-air theatre at Mehtab Bagh behind the monument.
Rakesh Chauhan, president of the Hotels and Restaurants Association, said: "The coming tourist season beginning September should see a big spurt in tourist arrivals. The interest in Agra and its monuments has definitely increased and we are determined to cash in on the publicity."
Raviv Tiwari, a tourism industry leader, said the present turnover from Taj-centric tourism was around Rs20 billion ($500 million) annually. "We now want it hiked to Rs100 billion."
Tour operators in the Mediterranean, such as the Greece and Mediterranean Travel Centre, have created new packages highlighting Petra, and are talking these up in their markets and authorities have said they expect the number of tourists visiting Petra to double.
Faruq Hadidi, secretary general of Jordan's ministry for tourism and antiquities, told AFP that the increased tourist numbers are "expected to increase tourism revenue, market the Kingdom and enhance the national economy".
According to official figures, the ancient city witnessed a 15 per cent increase in visitors in the first five months of the current year – from 194,346 tourists to 223,084.
However, such a poll raises a far more important question: how are governments going to protect these monuments? Already, archaeologists have called for urgent steps to safeguard Petra, saying the projected tourist increase could damage it unless protective measures were taken.
"Choosing Petra as a world wonder has made the public even more aware of the need to conserve this unique heritage that we have,” Khairieh Amr, a senior archaeologist with Jordan's tourism ministry, told AP.
He warned that Petra and other archaeological sites in the region could suffer because of a 'building boom that is taking place' to expand tourist facilities.
Historical preservationist John Stubbs, who is with the World Monument Fund, said of the ancient temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia: “There's not a minute to waste in looking after this precious place because, without a doubt, it could be ruined by some wrong decisions.”
Inaccessible for many years, these monuments built for a 12th century king attract more than two million visitors every year. From just two hotels 10 years ago, today there are more than 100. In what was once jungle, new shopping malls, pizza restaurants and massage parlors dot the landscape.
Although the influx of tourists has brought jobs and millions of dollars to the local Cambodian economy, Stubbs said greed will ultimately win out over preservation.
Another case in point is China's Great Wall, which, some say, is slowly being destroyed by tourism and neglect. “The Great Wall has been severely destroyed by visitors, and I am surprised that the Great Wall can still be named as one of the new seven wonders of the world,” said Wang Xiaoyu, who was visiting the wall at Badaling from nearby Beijing, AP reported.
Almost every brick in heavily touristed sections of the wall, such as Badaling, has been carved with people's names and other graffiti.
Many popular parts of the wall have been buffeted in recent years with unsightly hotels, restaurants and trinket shops. Some sections are strewn with garbage.
The wall's length has been estimated at 3,000 to 4,000 miles and it weaves through a dozen provinces and regions across northern China. Some stretches have fallen into disrepair while others were pulled down by villagers who used the bricks to build houses.
The man behind the poll, Bernard Weber, said he hoped it would inspire preservation efforts.
In India, large-scale renovation work of the Taj by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is under way. ASI officials said a clay pack treatment to remove stains from the marble surface of the Taj is to start after the monsoon rains end.
But that's just the beginning. There's a lot more work to be done.