The tourism slogan “Be taken by Albania” intentionally references kidnapping

Hey, Liam.
Hey, Liam.
Image: Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji
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Tourism slogans come in all forms, from the high-minded (Thailand’s “Open to the New Shades”), to the self-effacing (Nebraska’s “Honestly, it’s not for everyone”), to the designed-to-go-viral (Vilnius’s “G-Spot of Europe“).

But Albania’s new tourism slogan, announced at the end of February, is something altogether different. “Be Taken by Albania” appears to be a direct nod to the Balkan nation’s reputation for criminal activity—and of course the 2008 film Taken (and its sequels) starring Liam Neeson, where the actor plays a father desperate to find his daughter, who has been kidnapped by Albanian human traffickers.

You might assume that the country’s tourism board chose “Be Taken by Albania” without thinking about the unfortunate double meaning: They wanted you to “be taken” by the country’s dramatic coastline and welcoming residents, not evoke kidnapping, sex trafficking, criminals, or organized crime networks. The nation hopes to attract 10 million visitors annually, after all.

But a look at the website shows the slogan and accompanying campaign is indeed a direct reference to the country’s reputation as “a haven for thugs, criminals, and gangsters.” There is even an effort—complete with a petition—to get Liam Neeson himself to visit the country and be “taken” by its many charms. (Neeson does not appear to have commented on the campaign.)

“Hey Liam, we love watching your films, and we think you’re very talented,” the tourism video begins. “But we’ve got a bone to pick with you. You made people of the world think that we Albanians are criminals, thugs, and always on the lookout for daughters to kidnap.”

The video then goes on to showcase Albanians’ “specific set of skills” (a winking reference to Neeson’s character using a similar phrase to describe his violent black-ops training in the CIA), which include the nation’s “friendly smile,” “amazing history,” and “traditional handicrafts.”

While the video is playful and well-produced—complete with the de rigueur drone footage—the reality is that organized crime and human trafficking remain serious problems in Albania. A 2018 report from the US State Department found that Albania continues to be “a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor.” Though it noted the government had made some strides in addressing the situation, it says Albania still “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.”

Albania’s tourism campaign makes a fair point: Countries that are off the beaten tourism path are often unfairly stereotyped by their depictions in films and popular culture. And there is little doubt that Albania’s gastronomy, culture, and landscape make it a nice place to visit. 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.

One can only assume that Albania’s tourism board was hoping to replicate the viral infamy that Vilnius enjoyed with its bizarre “G Spot of Europe” campaign, which was a huge success in that it prompted a slew of articles and drew international attention to the capital of Lithuania. Whether or not either campaign or slogan will bring more tourists, however, is entirely up for debate.