Albania’s Tourism Campaign ‘Taken’ a Step too Far?

There has long been a principle in marketing which says there is no such thing as “bad publicity”.

A long list of celebrities dethroned for their public transgressions would disagree with that idea but it looks like Albania’s tourism board is a firm believer, as its latest campaign “Taken by Albania” makes waves online.

Launched on the 27th of February, the campaign encourages people to visit Albania, using references to the 2008 film Taken, starring Irish actor Liam Neeson, in which a former CIA agent tries to rescue his kidnapped daughter from Albanian sex traffickers.

“In popular culture, Albania has been coloured as a haven for thugs, criminals, and gangsters” the official website states;

“While we understand that perception might make for good movies, like Taken (2008), it’s wholly untrue! In reality, Albania is a beautiful and incredibly safe place to visit and live.”

In a two minute video, locals address Liam Neeson directly, and invite him to visit Albania to show him their “particular set of skills”.

“You made people of the world think that we Albanians are criminals, thugs, and always on the lookout for daughters to kidnap.” says one man, named ‘Marko from Tropoja’ a reference to the primary antagonist of the cult classic film.

“We think you will be ‘Taken’ by Albania” the video continues, showcasing the parts of Albania visitors will be ‘taken’ by, like the “friendly smiles” the scenery, food, and culture.

Along with the video, the official website includes a petition to get Neeson to Albania.

Critical reaction to the campaign has been mixed. The Telegraph called it a “mis-step” and Travel Weekly called the promotional video “cringe-worthy”. While many online praised the country for it’s a humorous play on negative stereotypes, others questioned the wisdom of basing a campaign around Neeson, who recently admitted in an interview that he had attempted to find a “black b*****d” to kill after a close friend had been raped.

There’s also the case of human trafficking, the key message at the centre of Taken. A report released by the US State Department in 2018 found that the “Government of Albania does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so”.

The report stated that the Albanian government, which it called “a source, transit, and destination country” for victims of humans trafficking, continued to “penalise victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking”.

Rosie Spinks, writing for Quartzy sums it up nicely; “Countries that are off the beaten tourism path are often unfairly stereotyped by their depictions in films and popular culture.

“But directly drawing attention to (and vaguely poking fun at) the country’s human trafficking problem is perhaps taking the point a little too far.”